In the picture above, Gilda sleeping in a "wooden drawer" we had in our previous house. She seems to enjoy it :)
After about 2 months of playtesting, I can officially announce the release of version 1.0 of my sci-fi RPG game Planet Stronghold! It has been a very long journey, from the "classic" early prototypes with programmer art to the final result which features beautiful manga artwork and a very detailed combat system. I started the game at the end of 2009, worked on it until beginning of 2010 then paused it to release the two Vera Blanc games. And then I resumed working on it in September 2010, and I've listened to all the suggestion people made in the course of those last 6 months, implementing lots of features that people requested.
Hopefully this process made Planet Stronghold a better game (I have no doubts about it) and for that I want to send a special thank you to everyone who sent their suggestions, who supported me buying the early alpha versions back in september 2010, when the game was only a few chapter long and still quite rough, and who is supporting me in any way (offering free proofread, telling friends about my site, and so on).
I don't know if the game will be a success or not, but I've enjoyed making it. And most importantly it helped me build a sort of "RPG framework", so that I'll be able to release new RPGs in future at much faster pace! :)
So, for those who don't know yet what I'm talking about, check the official game trailer:
If you like RPGs, stay tuned since I have plans to create several more RPGs in the next months, alongside my other projects (mostly visual novels and dating sims). And now for those who enjoy reading postmortems:
The making of Planet Stronghold
It was the end of 2009 when I thought would have been nice to do a visual novel with some "light" roleplay elements, so I started working on Planet Stronghold.
Initially I had picked another artist, but she was lazy and uncollaborative, so I "fired" her and found a much better one (more reliable and much more skilled). A typical mistake that I always make is to be forgiving with people, but the reality is that if you're running a business, if you're not an amateur anymore, and you need to do things the serious way. You can still be friendly of course, but as soon as you notice people are trying to take advantage of you, don't hesitate to put them back on track, or you'll end up wasting lot of precious time yourself and in the end have to change collaborators anyway!
So, at the end of 2009 - beginning of 2010 I had a very simple system in place. Then I took a break to make the two Vera Blanc games, but I was still working a bit on Planet Stronghold in the "spare time". And then, I started adding features. I had the battles, and I thought "why characters must always use one single weapon? it's unrealistic! and voilà, I added an inventory. Then I thought "if all heroes have same skills, what's make them different?" and again, I added the Skills system. But what is a sci-fi RPG without some fancy replacement for the fantasy RPG magic? And so I added the Psionics skills! :D
As you can see, with such kind of games, if you like to add new features, you can basically go on as much as you want. But unless you're mad you have to stop at one point! And indeed when I was about to implement some sort of movement system, like a tilemap I thought "wait... I need to release this game before 2012", and so I opted for a simpler movement system.
Then I began writing the main plot which, as you probably have noticed if you just played the demo, is VERY LONG. Once again, maybe as first attempt into a new territory (for me) I made a mistake in making such a big game. Perhaps I should have made the game smaller, to test the waters first? Who knows, I know for certain that nobody can complain about this game longevity since I can say without doubt that is the longest (and also most replayable) game I've ever made!
From September through today, I've started working on the game full-time, and I decided to try the "open-alpha" and then later "open-beta" approach. If you're making a complex game, not necessarily a RPG, I strongly recommend doing it. Some people do a closed alpha pre-orders, and that's fine too, but I found out that by making the alpha public I got lot more feedback. Considering I'm a small indie developer, I was surprised by the amount of feedback I got, both in my forums and privately by emails!
Overall I'm very satisfied by the game - since it has already sold well during the alpha/beta stage, so means there's some potential for VN/RPG hybrids. I could have probably done it faster using some different coding tecniques, but now at least for future games I know how to get started quickly. Also, I have to be honest, while coding it the library I choose (Ren'Py) got the biggest update of its whole history, switching from software rendering to accelerated OpenGL, and adding a new screen language format. This was a great thing, but happened right when I was stil coding the game! So I was unsure what to do, and in the end I decided to upgrade, so had to redesign some parts of the game to use the new language.
This delayed the game, even if now plays much faster even on very low-end netbooks. Future RPGs will be done directly in the new system so I won't have those problems anymore.
Lastly, about two weeks ago I decided to try the "Steam Lottery". Some developer friends and I have called it that way, because you never know if you're going to be accepted by them or not, also especially because they have no guidelines, and give no explanation when your game is rejected. Since another manga game with RPG element (Recettear) was recently quite popular on Steam, I thought to try.
Obviously, they rejected it, but this time it wasn't an immediate email, they actually asked for demo and played it! It must mean that is my best game so far, in a way or the other :)