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!

kickstarter progress

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

new stretchgoals

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!

Axel-NormalAxel-Normal

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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87% and counting!

I’m really excited to say that with 10 days left on our campaign, Legend of Lotus has reached 87% of its funding goal! Yay!!!

kickstarter progress

 

If you haven’t checked out our page yet, please do! We had a lot of fun making the promotional video, and we hope you have as much fun watching it. Even if you don’t pledge – or can only pledge a dollar or two – your support means the world, and spreading the word is just as big a help.

Another exciting development is that we are in talks with Donn and the lovely folks behind You Are Not the Hero in featuring their “non-hero” Petula for a brief cameo in Legend of Lotus. Donn approached us about this awesome idea – and J and I jumped on it immediately. For those unfamiliar, YANTH takes the classic tropes of old school RPGs and turns it on its head. You may remember Link, Cloud, and Squall taking a break out of defeating monsters to break into the homes and property of the people they purportedly want to protect, taking gold/rupees, and other useful belongings. When Petula encounters some “heroes” trying to pull a fast one on her, she vows to retrieve her stolen pendent, leading her on a quest of her own!

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Petula, as will be seen in LoL

As you can see, Justin and I have a lot of reason to be excited about Legend of Lotus’ newest developments – and we have YOU to thank for it! Thanks, all!

 

 

*UPDATE*

Even before publishing this entry – in just the time it took to write it, we’ve already been bumped up to 90%. You guys – even if we had 100 $2 donations, we’d reach out goal – and this is the internet! This is the group that helped a guy make potato salad with like $40,000 dollars! Anything is possible!

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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!

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.

A Summary of Game Progress – Characters and Portraits

This blog exists because of our RPG Maker VX Ace Project, The Lotus War, but besides for posting some images of recent artwork, the game itself has kind of taken a backseat in the blog. Not because work has halted, but because so much has been covered in past posts. For example, older posts might’ve covered product reviews or character introductions – you might notice, though, that the products that we use in game creation are limited, and the main cast has pretty much been introduced. Similarly, custom scripts that we’ve utilized have been addressed in past posts, as well as some of the custom tilesets that will appear. But with a goal of having a demo available by next month (we’ll see how that goes), perhaps it’s time to recap some of our development progress. Today, I’ll start with something already familiar: the art. Expect, though, to see samples of cut scenes, the opening credits, and new views of our map coming soon.

Of course, we have the main cast fully assembled. You may remember from earlier posts that the artwork hasn’t always been up to snuff. Fortunately, with practice, I was able to create a team of which I’m proud:

wpid-1149067_588924531160537_1382445057_n.pngTaya-BlushArinnel-Normal

Axel-NormalAuhn-Normal elf guy normalbron

 

We also have several of the secondary cast fleshed out:

Axel3-NormalAnders-NormalSteff-NormalKai2-Normal

 

And you might notice that the armor is a little more unified these days – although still varying from character to character. This was done to give it more of a military feel.

Some of the major bosses were also completed:

Galen-NormalshaneThe Bird-NormalThe Chief - Normal

 

Battlers have also been important, which we’ve been fortunate enough to obtain for customization through Holder:

ren-battler auhn-battler kai-battler galen-attack bron-battler taya-shot

 

This is all a big deal to me because it has truly come a long way. Some past examples were rough:

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In the past, you might notice, the characters looked a bit flat.There was little dimension due to my lack of comfort with MangaStudio. My skill has vastly improved – and I also discovered new nifty tricks (the most revolutionary being “export in dimensions” rather than “export in pixels” – for Photoshop, it makes such a huge difference!). I’ve also grown in comfort using Photoshop, and discovered a nifty tool in GraphicsGale for pixel art. Not to mention my ability with the Wacom Bamboo Splash has increased dramatically.

In addition to that, I’ve created what will become the basis of at least part of the opening cinematic:

opening 1

Of course, given that the characters are my area and I’ve been updating the blog since month 3 or so, any frequent readers are well aware of the advancements in this area. For a game development blog, the greater interest might light in world creation, coding, scripting, and the like. Fortunately, J also has some great progress to report. Unfortunately, we’re spreading this recap out so that each aspect of our game has a moment to shine.

Check back soon for progress in our game music, our opening credits, our opening “cinematic,” and out in-game cut scenes. All of this will hopefully be leading up to a playable demo some time in August.

And please, feel free to leave feedback. Feedback is what we need to fulfill our ultimate goal: creating a great game.

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:

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Not to mention my random warrior chick:

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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:

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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?

Introducing a New Elf Party Member – Jeth or Jerr?

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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?

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?

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?

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?