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.

NPCs

NPCs go a long way in making the world feel fleshed-out and real. There are games, like the recently reviewed by Justin Gone Home, that have no visible NPCs yet succeed in having a complete-feeling world. However, the presence/existence of NPCs is clearly felt, and an explanation provided for why they’re gone. Not to mention it’s confined to a small setting (within one house) verses other games that are saturated with NPCs, like Skyrim, which take place across continents.

You likely remember the old school Nintendo RPGs, like Pokémon or Zelda (btw, I love it… I typed in Pokémon and my computer automatically added in the accent) where the NPCs occupying your world just kind of walk in a line or around in a circle. After your initial greeting for each day, the character resorts to saying the same brush-off “Well let’s both have fun today!” or “I’m so glad you like cheese too!” “Take care of that pony!” “That was mean!” It’s something we talked about before, where it’s a bit of a trade to maintain the open-world feeling we desire.

It’s incredible to me, now on the other side of the fence, that anyone could be as detail-oriented as Oblivion, wherein NPCs basically live out their entire lives just as you play. I mean… you could very well have one guy in charge of making the entire life-coding for one inconsequential NPC.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time or man-power. However, I hope that many of our NPCs have their own interesting little background, and that most, if not all, have their own character portraits.

How do you feel about NPCs?

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?

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?

What Can I Get for You? (A Word on Shops)

I bet if you thought really hard all the way back to the 90s, to sitting on the couch maybe with a friend or your siblings, playing Ocarina of Time, you could still hear that familiar chime in your head as you enter a shop (de dededede duhhh, da da da da da da dadadada duhhhh, da da da da da dadadada duhhhhhh, de dadadada dedade… something like that). And really, what RPG is complete without a shop or vendor or hobo who happens to collect medpacs?

Yeah, like that guy. Btw, this image is clearly not ours.

Yeah, like that guy. Btw, this image is clearly not ours.

And some of the shops are really pretty fun.

Yeah, like this one... the image of which is also not mine.

Yeah, like this one… the image of which is also not mine.

But all in all, I don’t know that I liked getting items from shops as much as I liked just finding them. I mean… the Master Sword wouldn’t be all that cool if it were something you just bought for like 10000000 rupees, right?

The game loses a little fun for me when all the best items are ones that I have to shop for.

Games like various Zelda titles do kind of have a median – you have to find the best items through questing, then after finding and thus unlocking the item, it becomes something purchasable in stores. That makes for a nice middle-ground: you gain your sense of accomplishment in unlocking said item while avoiding the irritation of unlocking a really b/a item, using it up because it’s so fantastic, and then never finding any again because who really just finds stuff in the bushes? (You know… besides for Link)

A bit I liked in Path of Exile, though, was that rather than straight-up buying items, you really more… bartered for them. That’s a more realistic practice for many games, and it makes more sense.

In The Lotus War, I do believe there will be currency, and I believe that many of your items can be bought. However, I hope to blend in a few features of newer games. For example, I hope that using items found in the world, the character or his party can synthesize more useful items. Synthesized items would sell for more at the shops and vendors.

More than that, however, I look forward to the questing that will lead players to all the cool gear.

What do you prefer? Shops from which you can buy anything – even buying better gear than what can be found – or the necessity of questing to gain the top gear?

-D

Motives

A friend recently told me that he took a “Which Comic Book Villain Are You?” His result was one that he did not agree with – The Red Skull. “Me? A tyrant? I don’t want to rule anyone! …You would be Scarecrow because you can’t fight so you do that.” And I said “Look less at what they’re doing and more at why they’re doing it.”

Because of course I can’t fight. Of course he doesn’t aspire to be a tyrant. We’re not super villains. We don’t desire any of that currently. What we’d want to focus on is what would motivate a person to go from being a normal (or… you know…. psychopathic) kid and turn into a Ganondorf. Or a Big Boss. Or a Darth Malak (you expected Vader, didn’t you? WELL HAH!)

You don’t always get an incredible motive, and that’s okay too – as long as the villains are cool and you can just tell that it’s because they’re too b/a for rules (I don’t particularly remember Malak’s motives, but you know… he’s evil Sith. That’s enough!). It happens a lot in video games, I notice. Of all the RPGs I’ve played or watched be played (by my brothers or Justin or friends), I actually can’t clearly remember anyone’s motives. Ganondorf didn’t like how the Gerudo were treated, I think? Or he was just cocky? Umm… Sephiroth… thought he should conquer the planet because he’s… part alien? Shuji Ikutsuki (Persona 3) wants the end of the world to come for… some… reason…

Now, I’m sure there exists people that can tell me all about these motives, but the fact is that video games are not expository by nature. They don’t take long departures from the current plot line to expound on the details of a character’s life (I mean… unless they’re by Hideo Kojima). Or at least, I really hope that they wouldn’t because you watch a movie or read a book for that kind of description. You play a video game to play. And play you shall in the Lotus War!

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It’s for that reason that Justin and I have decided to produce a comic to help expound on the motives of the main villain. A sort of prequel to flesh out the world and villain even further.

We definitely intend for the video game to be able to carry the story all on its own, with a slow-build and a piecing together of plot throughout the entire game play. But if the story piques your interest, I hope that the comic adds another level of depth and perhaps helps create a villain that is believable – one whose motive can be seen as one that would turn even a nice guy into a villain.

What are some of your favorite video game villains? What kind of motives did they have?

-D

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.