Kickstarter Progress

kickstarter progress

With 18 days left on our Kickstarter, we have 55 backers and nearly 60% of our goal met! But I wanted to take this opportunity to thank some great peeps who’ve supported our project from the get-go:

The Otaku Judge – one of our first backers, most constant commenter, and great reviewer-of-anime – Thanks for turning Geek Out South-West’s attention over to us, thanks for your support, and thanks just all around. What a guy!

Geek Out South-West – thank you for the tremendous shout-out! Posted just today, we already got two additional pledges within less than an hour of your post. Hats off to you, sirs!

Ross Tunney – Another fantastic project creator you can find on Kickstarter – currently has a live campaign for his awesome, anime-inspired game, Data Hacker. Thanks for the shout-outs, Ross!

And I’d love to take this moment to thank not only anyone who has backed us, but anyone who has spread the word about Legend of Lotus – even if unable to financially back us. Please help us keep this campaign going! If any of your friends A) are rich B) love retro games or C) all of the above, send them our way for our eternal gratitude.

If anyone out there has ever wanted to take part in video game creation but lacks the time, the energy, the money, the skills or the… creativity, by backing even just $1, your name will be memorialized in our credits. By playing the demo and offering feedback, or becoming a $15 backer and downloading the game through its Beta stage, you can earn a special place in our credits as a consultant.

As long as we’re talking about Kickstarter, here are some great projects currently live:

Aegis Defenders – a visually stunning pixel art game

Steam Punk & Cthulu Soundtracks – a soundtrack production group to create awesome soundscapes for tabletop gaming

 

And finally, I’d like to give a preview of a new concept we’re planning to develop once Legend of Lotus is done:

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We’re exploring 2D platformer construction using Unity – with a totally new art style. But not only will the art be completely different; the storytelling, game mechanisms/play, and goals will be completely different too.

aki

 

Without words, this game will tell the simple but moving story exploring the depths of the bond between a dog and her boy. It will be a pixel art game with puzzle mechanisms, and a simple, clear story with one goal: to get home with your boy. The above .gif is a rough design of the dog’s sprite, animated by yours truly.

Our goal to finish Legend of Lotus is January, provided the Kickstarter goes through. Production on Bound is slated to begin shortly thereafter. Wish us luck!

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Attack of the Ogres

Enemies are needed just as much as heroes. Unfortunately, the resources for enemy battlers are rather limited – at least for the monsters. I’m therefore making my own battlers based on resources provided by RPG Maker:

$BigMonster2

To make this sprite blend more with our battlers, I changed the center to a 3/4 view, and added an outline as seen on our other battlers.

I then animated it, but manipulating its parts, slightly.

His low-health state:

ogre

His primary attack:

ogre2

Expect to see more soon, as well as possibly our demo coming up soon.

Edo-Inspired Woman

I’ve recently been introduced to the Weekly Art Challenges on RPG Maker’s official forum. They’re fun themed little challenges that ask for submissions each week on the forum. Thought I’d share mine for this week’s. The theme is historically-inspired. This is mine, a woman inspired by Japan’s Edo Period:

edo

 

Her kimono is not in the exact style of the Edo period, but the lithe figure is a nod to that traditional period, as well as the make-up and hair style.

A Summary of Game Progress – A tour of Genos

Justin here. Just a quick update on some game progress. Specifically, the world of Genos. Every classic RPG game world is unique, but with similar roots. The dynamic? The main character who ultimately becomes a hero, has humble beginnings. This kind of classic game dynamic works, and for The Lotus War, we didn’t want to change. Why? Because that’s the kind of story that we all can fall in love with. We connect to it, envy it. An ordinary guy, who goes on to do extraordinary things. Who overcomes odds, using talents and wits. What differentiates this kind of coming-of-age story in any incarnation are the details – and we’ve seasoned both the plot and the world with originality.

None of this would be possible without the player having a world in which to become a hero. I’ve labored some hours over all the maps in the game, constantly adding and changing things. A common complaint among RPG fans (especially towards RPG maker games) is that the maps are bland, without real detail, or seeming as though the designer didn’t put a lot of time or thought into them. I have been trying my utmost to design a world that I would want to play, and the world I want to play can’t be bland or lazy. In any game especially RPG/Adventure games, the world should encourage you to explore and you should have fun doing it. None of this should feel tedious, or drawn out. Our world, Genos, is vast. It has a little bit of everything…

From the humble beginnings of Ren’s home town…

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To secret places with friends…

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…Exploration with your party…

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Steampunk styled cities…

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Lush forests…

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Snow-capped mountains…

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…and ancient dungeons.

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From desert wasteland to frozen tundra, The Lotus War has a little bit of everything to explore. It’s my hope you’ll have as much in discovering it as I have had in creating it.

A demo is forthcoming – so stay tuned! In this coming month, we plan to add several more updates to game progress, such as our opening credits and some game footage.

Syncing Up Character Portraits and Sprites

Populating The Lotus War‘s world has been a priority of late. While I have several characters on the back burner already, they didn’t have corresponding sprites. J, conversely, had the opposite problem: he filled several maps with NPC sprites for which there were not yet portraits. So I went ahead and created characters based on the sprites, then made sprites based on the characters. Admittedly, one was a bit easier than the other: creating the sprites first, then basing the portraits on them. But with the limits on RPG Maker’s templates, that left the sprites/portraits done that way rather uninspired.

RPG Maker doesn’t even have ponytails as an option for hairstyles, for example. Not to mention rest of the costumes: there are probably about 15 or so that fit into various categories of warrior, shaman (or wiseman, or something), villager, and then a few modern ones (suits and school uniforms, mostly). I can edit these well enough on Photoshop or GraphicsGale, but I think if I were to make the sprites first, I probably wouldn’t have a mind for editing them as much before drawing new portraits.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) the little 16-bit, 2D sprites that games like ours utilize aren’t of the greatest, most explicit detail. You look at the characters and get the general idea of, ok, this one is a red-headed girl, in an ab-baring yellow top, but I don’t think you would expect to see detail at that level. In fact, if you add a scarf to your character, RPG Maker may not, by default, add that to the sprite. There are, then, a lot of little things that a designer could conceivably get away with… adding buttons, certain cuts of clothing, high collars, low collars, etc. etc. But some of the really basic things, such as color, seem to inherent to a character not to change. For example:

 

Those are the basic hair colors that RPG Maker offers, give or take. And yet, on Otaku Judge’s request, I’ve drawn a fiery red-headed rogue – not a bratty pink-haired one:

roguish girl

Not to mention my random warrior chick:

Scully-Normal

Exactly which shade above would do either of these two characters justice?

Even one of our stars, Arinnel, has pink hair… but it’s too fair a color to use RPG Maker’s red with. So does that mean that I should stick to the 6 or so shades offered by the game? Or should I just do a bit of a bait and switch to make my job easier? It’s not like it’s unprecedented, even in professional games:

It’s a little hard to see, but notice how the character’s talking to a dude that seems to have blue-ish gray hair, but the dialogue portrait shows him with tannish blond.

But hair is not all:

billy

I drew this guy a while ago before really thinking about his sprite. Not only was orange not available for his vest, but in RPG Maker, he wouldn’t even have a vest. It would’ve been a jacket. So I made some simple modifications:

liam

Yet even that’s not perfect. If you look closely, his collar in the sprite sheet hangs low and is orange. In the portrait, it is gray and upright.

But all in all, I do wonder: how closely do sprites and portraits need to align? What do you think?

How do you come up with stories?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a very fantastic (as in, remote from reality) dream: I was a clone of me, created after I was brutally murdered. But I didn’t have my memories; I only knew, academically, what “my” life experience was like, who was important in “my” life, what “I” did and didn’t like. Reconciling this purely academic knowledge with my sense of self and my emotions was taking a toll. I sought rebellion from this version of me whom I didn’t know and yet who was controlling me so thoroughly. I began acting out – doing what I specifically knew “I” would not do, while conversely seeking experience that might help me to understand… well… “me.”

I don’t usually have such vivid, developed dreams, but this is not the first time a story has come to me in my sleep.

Anyways, I took this to a friend of mine and we began to talk about ways I could develop this into a story. I was also considering how I could mold this into an idea I have for our next big game (our clone-space saga). My friend, though, kept asking me “What’s the plot?” – and I kept giving a premise – “She’s trying to reconcile with being a clone.”

When I gave a few more details, they were all world-building and character development-based. None of them really were based on a sequence of events I wanted to present. And I realized: everything I’ve ever written or imagined started with a person and a premise. Then I thought about what the person would do in such a premise and called it a plot. I can’t really envision another way of devising a story. In fact, normally, my first step is creating a character sheet: drawing out the character (whether it’s an illustrated story or not), writing out his/her background and characteristics, and maybe a few key quotes from said character.

She thought I could play around with inverting this structure: thinking of a series of events and letting that inform a character. So far, though, it feels as though I can’t even conceptualize a series of events without knowing the person walking through them.

Creating the Lotus war was probably the closest to this I’ve come, and that’s because Justin was beside me on it – but I still became attached to a Taya-prototype and an Arinnel-prototype even before we knew what the end would be.

So I ask in a spirit of curiosity: any of you out there plot-driven writers? How do you come up with stories?

Introducing a New Elf Party Member – Jeth or Jerr?

elf guy normal

Jerr-Normal

Both are faces you’re familiar with from previous blog posts, But recently, we’ve felt the need to incorporate another elf into the party. This one will be another herbalist, like Arinnel – but while her forte will be in healing potions, his will lie in attack potions.

I was all set to go with the top one, whom we’re currently calling Jeth. He has a little smirk that gives him the appearance of swag, confidence and general cool guy-ness. However, to get him battle-ready, I’d probably want to alter his clothes a little bit (although Arinnel is decidedly unarmored). That’s when Jerr caught my eye.

While not quite armored, he does seem a bit more ready-to-go. This character, though, would be a quieter, more subdued young man. Stoic – aloof, even. He’d probably be of little words, though of strong opinion.

We’re not yet sure what we want from this specific character. We do know that he will be in love with Arinnel, and is very dedicated to duty. He will either fight with a bow or a staff.

What do you think? Jeth or Jerr? Another archer, or should I give one of Holder’s staff-fighters a sex change?

Psychological Thrillers and Character Studies

Typically, when you think of a game, you think of action. Kicking, punching, stabbing, shooting, exploding… whatever gets the blood pumping. Yes, there are real-time strategy and simulation games (I myself have been a huge fan of The Sims, Sim City [although I was terrible at staying in the black], and the Tycoon games. Oh, and let’s not forget my beloved Harvest Moon). But I think most gamers think of action/adventure RPGs, FPSs, or Arcade fighting games when thinking about video games. Heck, controllers seem designed for them. But lately, more and more developers are looking at gaming as a medium for storytelling, pushing creators into new modes of game play.

For example, Amnesia the Dark Descent fits especially into the psychological thriller aspect of gaming, and while exciting, there is no true fighting. You are hiding from a monster against whom you cannot fight back. The second he has you in his clutches, your game is over. Gone Home, which Justin reviewed a while back, is a character study, I think, but of the player’s sister rather than the player herself. And you might’ve heard of To The Moon, an excellently reputed RPG Maker game. Even players outside of the admittedly niche-market of RPG Maker have played this, and magazines have reviewed it. While I myself have not played it (too deep into creating The Lotus War by the time I was aware of it), I know enough of its Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind-esque storytelling to know that it fits into this post well.

A comic book fan who is interested in interactive stories, this new genre is exciting to me. And really, less of a gamer and more of a writer at heart, it’s a very appealing genre – especially now that I’ve been taken with video game creation. What might its limits be, though?

Without action propelling the story forward and engaging the player, it all goes back to the story. The story needs to be good. And if the plot relies on a twist, that twist needs to be original, believable and engaging. I think the populace as a whole has seen one-too-many M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie twists to be taken in by anything less. The characters need to be relatable and likable and really – flawed, imperfect, real. We should have a real glimpse into the character’s mind or the world we are to explore. And I firmly believe that the character’s choices should matter, unless it’s one of those games where you just keep trying and trying until you get things right.

Our next game aims to be a bit of a puzzle game/character study, and I’ve been thinking (already!) of a sequel to that – although we have a large, epic sci-fi game lined up as the third, if all goes as planned. Justin and I have caught the creating bug, it seems. It’s wonderful, because this is the one mode of creation that really has thus far kept me enthralled.

What do you think of this new direction in video games? Do you like character studies/video novels, or do you prefer shoot-em-ups and swordplay?

Creative Partners

I’ve always been a solo flyer. Back in middle school, I was probably the best drawer in most of my classes. Then Joanna Rodriguez moved into town, and I had to share that title – which was totally fine because she was a delightful girl. Moreover, up until then, my friend who’d moved over from Guam and I were just about the only kids in school who liked anime/manga. So having another girl around – the nerdy, artsy type who like Princess Mononoke and Sailor Moon and who could draw and play on NeoPets with me? Who liked hanging out with boys without necessarily having to like them? Who’d watch Toonami’s line-up of Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing? That was frickin’ awesome! It was a girlmance waiting to happen.

We immediately became a trio rather than a duo, and life was good. But dang it! I was just so possessive of “my” ideas. You know… we’d rip off of other cartoons and make our own characters, like ripping of the magical-pet shows of the 90s but with our own little spin. And whenever I found a new show to rip off of, she’d be drawing her characters, too. Man… I wish I had scans of our drawings to show you, but I left them all in my parents’ garage. That’s the beside the point, though; the point is that I’d start to get annoyed that she was “copying” me… even though honestly, I copied some of the things she did too (which she smartly pointed out). I think I eventually put those trifles to rest and we joined forces to create little narratives with our characters and magical animals. We stayed friends for pretty much the rest of school before the normal drift (I was in band, she was in tennis; I was in Block B, she was in Block A, I hung out with Mexicans, she hung out with Asians… what?) and are still on good terms. Heck, we’re Facebook friends! That’s legit! But that was really my first clue that maybe, just maybe *gasp* I was not a team player. For crying out loud, even back in school when I got a group of which I didn’t approve, I’d do the bulk of the work because I didn’t want anyone to mess up “my” project.

I’m getting better at it, because I have to be. Most employers want a “team player.” They want someone who won’t take new ideas or suggestions or discards personally. Friends, too, like to matter, their opinions valued. And the ultimate partnership, marriage, requires teamwork and communication. So what are my tips for working with a creative partner?

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Of course this is #1. Of course. You don’t have a team if you don’t talk. You have two (or more) people working on their own solo projects that hopefully converge. I’ve felt that way a number of times myself during this endeavor.
Because I’m mostly in charge of characters and the designing thereof, I sometimes feel out of synch with what Justin’s creating. He’ll show me a level he’s creating, and a little situation he was proud of, and instead of being proud with him, sometimes my reaction is, “I didn’t know you were going to do that.”
Ugh.
The best way to avoid these feelings is frequent and meaningful communication. “What are you working on now?” “What kind of ideas do you have going forward?” “Thinking of any big changes to the outline we had?” Not just asking these questions of each other, but asking them of ourselves and preempting the questions with our partners by bringing it up when possible.
2. Trust your partner
Not only should you cultivate trust in your partners through your project, but you should only partner with someone that you already trust. If you don’t trust this person to reflect the same standard of quality that you expect of yourself, you’ll only spend all of your time looking over their shoulder at their work, and not enough time actually doing your own.
When you divvy up work, divide it in such a way that each person does what plays up to his or her strengths. And when you can admit, “Ok, Justin makes music way better than I ever could,” you may find yourself able to let go of these tasks because of your confidence in your partner’s abilities.
3. Think it as “ours” not “mine”
That’s a bit of an obvious one, but perhaps not easily accomplished. It requires a measure of trust, as discussed above. But when you tie your name in with someone else, don’t think about how the work might affect your reputation. Your partner is an equal part in this venture as you, and both want it to reflect well for future pursuits. Furthermore, if you’re concerned about your partner’s feelings and reputation too, you will be given further impetus to produce quality work. Knowing that the other person feels that same way as you will help allay any anxiety that perhaps the quality is not up to your standard.
4. Write it out
Sometimes, people get into weird “debates” only to find that they actually have been agreeing all along. I don’t know why. Perhaps our diction is unclear, or perhaps we’ve afraid to take too firm a stance on either side of a debate because we don’t want to be offensive but thereby confusing the other person. I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s definitely happened to me. Or perhaps you really do disagree and talking it out is only making the argument heated.
Writing it out gives us clear communication, through which we can’t cut each other off and which we can analyze and re-analyze. We can read, take note, re-read, construct a solid point, choose clear words, and hopefully, through this, can come to a clear agreement.

All of this is easier to say than to actually practice, but that’s why they call it practice. We try and try and try again. Thankfully, Justin and I have trusted each other with a lot more for a lot longer, so this was easier for us. But trust is often hard-won and easily lost, and communication is a simple principle with perhaps more complicated factors (after all, everyone thinks and speaks differently; some are high-context, some are low). But when we view our project as worthwhile, that’s work that we’re willing to put in.

Axel vs. Axel

Earlier this week, I displayed a new Axel character, as our last one has become sadly out-dated:

Axel-Normal

With jagged lines, rough shading, and sub-par anatomy, poor Axel was in no condition to stand besides the rest of the cast. Wanting to have an Axel that was a better fit in Ren and Taya’s desert village, I re-drew him entirely:

Axel2-Normal

With a bit of the same spirit, I really liked this newly revived Axel. However, I decided that my last one wouldn’t be completely scrapped, so I went into his Manga Studio file… only to find that I had already updated his anatomy and outlines, and he was colored at that. All that awaited was re-coloring. Why- I could even color him the proper complexion for a desert-dweller!

Axel-Normal

But now I have two similarly-complected, axe-wielding characters. What am I to do?

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My solution was to further re-color the “new” Axel – and I believe now he should be part of Kai’s rival team.

Ugh… well… the things we do for art.

Which iteration is your favorite?