Super Post-Mortem BLOWOUT: Part III

DISCLAIMER:

I started writing this back in February and never got around to finishing it. Here’s what I had so far (about half of the supposed “finale”). Some of the info is outdated, particularly pertaining to The Bravest Four. Decided to post this to just give you guys something before more info about The Amazing Office Adventures is unveiled. It’s not really proofread, but still try to enjoy me talking about my crappy games nonetheless.

Part IV (the real finale) will come… when it’s unfinished. For now, the main priority is Office Adventures. I’m actually preparing to launch the Steam Greenlight campaign soon, so…yeah. Anyway, enough rambling. Here’s the unpolished Part 3.

This is Part 3 in a four part series. For Part 1, go here. For Part 2, go here. For Part 4, go here.

For those of you just joining us, I urge you to go check out Part 1 & 2. For those who are too lazy, I’ll give you the quick gist: I’m doing a mini post-mortem of each of my 50+ games, which will culminate in a conclusion of what I’ve learned over four years. This is the last part of the series, and will most likely be the longest – not because it spans two years, but because I’ve learned the most through this time.

To make it easier for those who just want to skim, read a little and come back later, or skip through certain sections, you can use CTRL+F to get to the part you want. They go in order like so:

PART 1:

The Early Games

  • Last Fantasy
  • Crystal Fantasy
  • Laury & Chloe’s Awesome Adventure
  • Crystal Fantasy: A Wrinkle in Time & Space
  • Fireheart: Chapters I-V

The First Completed Games

  • Ralph: The Fail Lover
  • The Quest for Black Ops
  • The Cave
  • Laury & Chloe
  • The Christmas Mystery

The Dark Ages aka The FANGAMES

  • Shadow the Hedgehog VX
  • Sonic the Hedgehog VX
  • The Legend of Zelda VX
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight’s End

Takeaways from 2010

PART 2:

The Platformers

  • Run & Jump
  • Jump It!
  • Ninja Story
  • Blocky

The Era of Cancelled Games

  • Cielo Adventure
  • 2D Space Shooter
  • The Legend of Melody
  • Hack & Slash
  • Jayde
  • Carry On
  • Sonata of the Twilight Sky
  • Castle Story
  • Crystal Heroes
  • Adventure of the Seven Realms

PART 3:

The New Engine Arrives

  • Demon Castle
  • Starlight Adventure CXVIII
  • The Legend of Ace: Trial Adventure
  • Super Summer Dash
  • Jenny Mallone vs. The Demon Child
  • Starlight Adventure
  • Leo the Square

The Era of Hope & Bravery

  • Viravani
  • Silicon Savior Sasha
  • Super Rope War
  • The Bravest Four

The School Projects
Misc. Games
Conclusion: Everything I’ve learned over the years

Without further ado, let’s finish this!

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Adventure of the Seven Realms: Sister #2
November 2011

Yeah, we’re gonna go back to 2011 before we head into 2012. This is another RPG, this time focusing on a ragtag bunch of sea adventurers searching for treasure when they accidentally release a demon…who happens to be a little girl. In order to prevent her from destroying the world, they need to awaken seven sages that can stop her once and for all.

Yeah, it’s one of those games.

Let’s see, where do I begin on this one? It didn’t get very far, so there’s not too much to talk about. As with Castle Story, I think I did fairly well on the aesthetics, in both the environments and the UI. It was the first game where I really started to take full advantage (as much I knew at that time, really) of Adobe Photoshop, and created some really nice menus – in my opinion. But then again, that’s not saying too much.

The gameplay changed quite a bit during it’s short development. Originally, all party members were playable at one time. However, I changed it to be more in line with Castle Story, where only one member can be controlled at once, but they can be switched out during battle via a “Party” command. I thought it was an interesting idea, as it was basically a human version of Pokemon with more skills but less mons. It worked out pretty well during testing, but overall, it felt very bland and boring. At the time, there was also no way to switch characters if you died, so you automatically got a Game Over if the character you were playing as died, even though there would be three other characters in reserve.

Despite this, this is one of my favorite games that I’ve had the pleasure of working on, mainly due to the story and characters. I really enjoyed the sea/pirate theme going on, and I would gladly use it again in a game, audio drama, book, etc – even though the actual premise is a bit cliched. Meh, you can never have too many pirates. 😉

The characters were also some of the funniest and interesting I created. The plot and dialogue were really character-driven with lots of sarcastic and straight-faced humor. The music I used (provided by Kevin MacLeod) really enhanced the lighthearted tone of the game as well.

Even though it’s cancelled, some of the game’s elements and assets have been used in other games:

  • Captain Amelia, one of the protagonists (and one the funniest, IMO) is the third boss of The Bravest Four
  • Many of the maps, most of which were unfinished, will be reused in The Bravest Four
  • Amy, Sera, Elliot, and Leo (the playable characters) make an appearance during TBF as a rival arena team. Leo was/will also be used in Project Viravani/Lily & Leo with a much more stronger character to him.
  • The straight-faced humor and character-driven plot is heavily used in TBF.
  • The six difficulty modes make a return in TBF, and are virtually unchanged (other than ‘Sissy’ being renamed ‘Easy’).

A work-in-progress shot of the main menu.

Takeaways from this game:

  • Straight-faced humor is the bee’s knees.
  • Make sure your characters are rounded and well-developed.
  • Take risks! Both with your story and gameplay! I took one concerning the solo battle system, and having the main villain be a bitchy little girl (with some seriously twisted humor).
  • You can always look to your past games for inspiration and mechanics for your current/future ones. If you do, try to improve them if they sucked/had sour points to em.

____________________________________________

Starlight Adventure CXVIII
(Early Version)
January 2012

Ah, yes. Starlight Adventure. The first game of 2012, started in late January, and the one I worked on the longest and have the fondest memories of. There are two versions of this, this one (January-June 2012), and the second one after a brief hiatus (August-December 2012) which revamped a bunch of features. The second will be covered later.

The story is fairly simple: Zeke, son of the Grim Reaper, has to go up to the Mortal World (i.e. Earth) to restore three crystals destroyed by a group of ‘heroes’ called the Xerofanatix. Without the crystals, everyone living in Grim Land will die, and the Earth will roam with the undead.

As far as any of my games, this was probably one of the most self-aware. The characters were really ‘out-there’, and broke the fourth wall so much that there really wasn’t a fourth wall. I wanted to turn standard RPG/video game tropes on their head, the most obvious is that the so-called villain is the hero, and vice-versa. Even though it may not look like it from the outset, it’s one of the most morally grey stories I’ve ever created, all while maintaining a humorous and lighthearted tone throughout.

The aesthetics were really great as well, and were furthered enhanced with the revamp (later on). The graphics and music were in complete harmony, something that really enhanced the experience in general.

The gameplay, however, was a bit less great…but still actually pretty fun. I went back to the standard battle system I used before – front view, turn based combat with four characters. This was the first game where I used the new RPG Maker VX Ace engine (I previously only used VX), so there were a lot of enhancements. Battles were a bit more action-packed and fast paced, and usually ran at 60 FPS. It was also the first game where enemies were encountered on the map rather than random, however, enemies were too easy to fight and came in a ridiculously large numbers, making for a bit of an annoying experience. The level design was a bit bigger than usual, but didn’t really have a lot of alternate paths, with the some just leading to some treasure. The world map was originally HUGE, and the player could get lost getting to the next objective upon first receiving the ship. Fortunately, I remapped the world map in the revamped version, so it became a lot better.

This was also one of my more ambitious titles. It was meant to be a full-length RPG – which in my book, is about 5-8 hours OR as long as the story allows it without dragging on. (I hate filler with a PASSION) It was also the first game I ended up doing a lot research on, like playing other games and seeing exactly how they did stuff. I released an early demo of the game, back when it didn’t have a title (it was simply called Project Alexa), which received favorable reviews. I released another demo a few weeks later, this time with a title, and gameplay from the first dungeon (Icelandia/Snowsha Tower) to a major plot point – all in all, about an hour of gameplay.

That demo was Let’s Played/Tried by NicoB, who had many positive comments about the game, as well very useful feedback. What he says basically echoes my thoughts about the game. The 1st part can be seen here, the 2nd here, the 3rd here, and the final part here. If you’re interested in seeing the game at this point (no way I’m giving out the demo again ATM), I urge you to check it out. He’s also pretty funny, so, y’know…woot.

This game also got me into a teen-run company made by a friend, called Mainstream Youth Movement, which also introduced me into the Shaker LaunchHouse. While the MYM had a lot of problems and didn’t survive (trust me, I write an entire article detailing the mess that was), I kept going to Shaker LaunchHouse, which has been one of the most beneficial things in my game development career.

Anyway, I worked on this version for a few months before I realized how busy I was with school, and how little was getting done. I took a month long break to work on something else (coming in a bit), before coming back to this in July with a new coat of paint on it…

Takeaways from this version of the game:

  • Again, take risks! Turn tropes on their head! Don’t do what the audience expects you to do! Surprise them! Surprise YOURSELF!
  • Have FUN! This was the game I had a lot of fun making and showing off to people. So, y’know…do the same.
  • Take a break every now and then. We’re human, and we can’t look at the same thing day in and day out without ruining ourselves.
  • Put yourself in the player’s shoes. How would they feel and react when they’re playing the game? Is it a negative feeling? How would you fix that? Doing stuff like this can lead to a much better game.
  • Market the game!
  • Don’t be afraid to put out a demo or two. You can get some really great feedback. NicoB’s Let’s Try allowed me to see a player with no experience with the game see what they would do, and allowed me to improve the game as a whole.

________________________________________________

The Legend of Ace: Trial Adventure
March/April 2012

Man, do I love this game. Man, do others love this game! It’s a pretty damn decent game. It was made in one week during my Spring Break for a contest, the prize being a copy of RPG Maker VX Ace (which I already had, but meh). Once again, it emphasizes gameplay over story, with the only ‘plot’ going like this: you’re a chosen warrior, and you have to defeat an evil wizard named Malvagio with the help of a fairy to save an island. Here’s your sword, now get out.

Groundbreaking storytelling, isn’t it?

If you couldn’t already tell by the title and the above screenshot, it’s heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda – specifically the first and Ocarina of Time. You go through two main dungeons, collecting the orbs Solaris and Cato before finally preceding to Malvagio’s Lair to the north. It also has some RPG elements, leveling up your stats, upgrading your sword, and purchasing new spells and stat upgrades.

It has numerous issues, which can be attributed both to the week-long development and some general design quirks. You know how Zelda is generally non-linear, and how the 1st game had wide-open areas for you to explore and fight. This game doesn’t. At least on the overworld. Dungeons are a bit more open, but are still pretty linear.

The overworld generally only had one or two spaces open for you to walk and fight on, which was a bit of a pain in the ass and didn’t allow for much strategy. Speaking of a pain in the ass, let’s talk about the control! It was fairly standard…except for the fact that it was the first time I used “Pixel Movement” compared to the “Grid Movement” RPG Maker used by default.

For those of you not in the know, pixel movement basically tracks movement in pixels rather than in a grid. It’s a bit hard to explain, but in a way, it allows for more control. In this case, because of how finnicky it is, some of the map transfers didn’t work if you weren’t facing the direction you wanted to transfer on the ‘transfer event’. The player could also get stuck on the very edge of an obstacle or wall, and it also led to graphical errors, such as the player’s cape appearing on the edge of a ceiling.

Combat definitely lacked strategy. It was basically the player attacking the enemy with their sword and spells, and the enemy doing the same until one of them fell over. Because of the time constraint, I didn’t have a lot of time to test and balance the game, so it’s a little on the hard side of things, as well as featuring some game-breaking bugs.

But despite all of this, I think it’s still just plain fun.

Combined with the simple combat, satisfying spells, and a humorous and snarky plot, it makes for a pretty decent game. I think some of my players seem to agree. It actually got a lot of attention.

It’s still for download in two places, and combined, it’s gotten 1289 downloads. In the contest, it got 5th place out of 25 entries. The results and podcast can be seen here, and the game’s page/download that includes some players thoughts are here. There is also a review of the game (3 1/2 stars) over here as well.

Finally, Liberty, a well-known RM user and a friend of mine, did a full Let’s Play of the game. It can be seen in it’s entirety over here. It’s a good watch and she seems to really enjoy it. She’s also hilarious. Archeia Nessiah, one of the most popular RM users, also tried playing the game, but she got screwed over by the aforementioned pixel movement. You can see it here.

I still really enjoy this game, and I kind of have the urge to make a sequel to it. I almost did, as I game called The Legend of Ace: Devil’s Descent, for a Halloween contest this past year. Unfortunately, I had suffered from burn out (more on that later) and didn’t get past the planning phase. Maybe one day. In the meantime, it has a bit of a legacy, with the villain Malvagio/Malva (spoiler: Malvagio was a woman) being used in Viravani/Lily & Leo. Some of the maps are also reused in The Bravest Four. Here’s a comparison:

The Legend of Ace: Trial Adventure – Eternia Valley

The Bravest Four – Path to Winehart’s Lab (WIP)

Takeaways from this game:

  • Control is important. Experiment with different styles and physics to see what works best with your game.
  • If you’re making an RPG/action/shooter, try to have more open areas, not a one-tile path like I did.
  • Your game doesn’t have to be overly complex to be fun. This is especially true when you’re working on a strict deadline.
  • Have fun. Yeah…
  • Participate in jams and contests! Not only do you gain design experience and another finished game to your collection, but you get your studio out there and feedback for future games!
  • Let’s Plays really do help a lot. While they may not be super beneficial for a finished game (unless it’s a multiplayer game with constant updates), they’re great feedback for future projects.
  • Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from other games, but analyze how and why they did things, and try to improve upon that.

___________________________________________

During the hiatus of Starlight Adventure CXVIII, I tried to remake Adventure of the Seven Realms within RPG Maker VX Ace. It didn’t get very far, but here are some screenshots.

___________________________________________

Super Summer Dash
July 2012

Another game made for a contest with a summer theme to it, and again emphasizes gameplay over story. You play as Chase, going through three obstacle courses to try and win ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

It was HEAVILY inspired by American Ninja Warrior, which I was watching pretty much all day on G4 (insert tear drop) one week during the summer. You run, jump, flip switches, and get through obstacles on a time limit, which decreases with every level. If you wall into the water, you instantly respawn, but you have a tally added to your ‘Fail’ count, which effects your ranking at the end of the level. It’s basically a MUCH better version of Run & Jump.

Like The Legend of Ace, this game also utilized Pixel Movement, but it was much improved this time around. The player is no longer caught on obstacles and automatically readjusts themselves. It does cause some problems when it comes to jumping on moving platforms, and long jumping (which requires pressing A + SHIFT) is a bit of a pain in the ass. Otherwise, it’s a relatively decent game. I got the nighttime aesthetics kind of down, but I would have loved to add some more audience and spectacle effects. The music was pretty good, I used the two racing tracks from Beyond Good & Evil, and You’re The Best Around by Joe Esposito for the final (and most frustrating) level, which players said was really motivating. The visual style on the other hand…ugh.

It was created by a RPG Maker user, and was meant to be a ‘retro/8-bit’ version of the default RMVX tiles. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very pleasing to the eye, but I still used it because I’m a total idiot. Ugh.

Still, people enjoyed it. I don’t really know what the judges of the contest thought of it, as they only posted the 1st place winner with no feedback whatsoever. It was apparently livestreamed with all the other entries, but I can’t find it anywhere. It’s also pretty funny to see friends try it and fail. Heh.

I’m thinking of taking the three courses from this game, and making it a mini-game in The Bravest Four. I also REALLY want to remake this and add more content to as an iPhone/Android game, called Super Summer Dash HD. Only time will tell if it’ll actually happen.

It’s still up for download here, and has gotten 182 downloads so far, making it the least downloaded game I’ve put up.

Takeaways from this game:

  • Don’t limit yourself to taking inspiration from only video games. Look towards shows, movies, books, etc! This game was heavily inspired by American Ninja Warrior, and was better for it.
  • Again, control is important. If it’s bad, your players are just gonna quit the game in frustration.

___________________________________________

Jenny Mallone vs. The Demon Child (Sister #3)
Sometime in 2012

An off and on project I’ve had since at least the summer of 2012. Heavily inspired by Scott Pilgrim and the EarthBound/Mother series, specifically the first, this is the game I REALLY want to create – at least in some form, whether it be via an animated film, comic, game, etc. It’s a story I’d really love to tell.

It follows the titular Jenny Mallone and her friend Chase, as they attempt to locate her sister Alyssa – who’s been kidnapped by a child with magical powers who simply wants to reach the peak of Hope Mountain before she dies. The game would switch perspectives between Jenny and Alyssa every now on then before the two finally crossed near the end.

Yeah, it’s a story premise that’s a little hard to explain. By far, it’s one of the more personal stories I’ve created. You’re not saving the world, or anything. You’re simply looking for your sister. It was meant to be fairly lighthearted on the surface, with deeper meanings upon further analysis – something I’m trying to do with The Bravest Four.  It also wasn’t meant to be a long game, with the main story only taking a few hours to finish.

An early graphics test.

Battles were reminiscent of Earthbound Zero, with some overlap with Final Fantasy X. There was an on-screen turn order that allowed you to see you was attacking next, allowing you to make more strategic decisions.

The game was constantly put on hiatus time and time again, but my interest never really faded from it. The main reason for it’s ultimate cancellation is…well, I just don’t think I was ready for it. I loved the game, the story, and the characters, and I wanted them to be represented well. I wanted to have either an 8-bit aesthetic to it (something which is now overdone, and the gaming community hates), or a cartoony, Scott Pilgrim-esque look to it – something I didn’t have the skill for, or the money to pay for. It’s a game that I regret not making, and I still very much WANT to make. Some day, for sure. Who knows, it might not even be an RPG. The two closest genres as far as games go would be an adventure game or a beat ’em up. I dunno.

I learned a lot while making this game. It was the first time I really tried doing pixel art, and although I failed, l learned a lot, and have improved greatly since then. I also learned that you should spent SO MUCH TIME planning out stuff. Seriously,  I spent weeks and months planning the game, which are spread out through a bunch of documents. It probably contributed to the cancellation, but who knows. I also began looking into the technical aspects of old consoles, such as the NES, to see the limitations of the system and how devs back then overcame that. For instance, colors were VERY limited on the NES, so I tried sticking with the palett and color limit (3 per sprite)…but ultimately got rid of limiting the amount of colors on the sprites, while keeping to the actual NES palette. I still use this for any other 8-bit project I have, such as school projects or animated shorts.

To be finished and updated later…

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