Monday, February 28, 2011

Planet Stronghold v 1.0 released!

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:

You can download a demo at the official website: and see more screenshots and buy it on Winter Wolves main website:

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 :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Announcing a comic-book style RPG!

In the picture above, my cat Nina observing me while I code. She keeps me motivated! ;)

I've extensively talked about Vera Blanc and why it wasn't successful because of his mix of comic+visual novel gameplay in a market that is dominated by point'n'click adventures or HOG gamplay. But I'm not giving up with comic-style games! While most of my upcoming games will use manga artwork, since I really like traditional comic art I'm also producing another game with this style, this time a RPG though!

It's called "Loren - The Amazon Princess" (you can see some sketches/WIP artwork above) and is told from the point of view of a servant who's going to assist her in her quest to find out what happened to her mother. The servant can be male or female, but the gender choice like for Planet Stronghold will only influence the romance subplot, but the two characters will have same statistics.

I think this choice could be interesting since the story will be told like a "diary of memories" of the servant, from his/her personal point of view. So while the main decisions will be taken by the amazon princess, the servant will be able to influence her giving suggestions. I think it could be a nice variation from the usual games, since you don't have actual direct control, but you can only try to influence the main character in this case.

The game will have 20 characters, so a very good variety, and I plan also to make the battle more cinematic with different scenes for each character when they attack or use their special moves.

While I'm not sure about this yet, an interesting thing is also the game possible pricing. If I can manage to, I'd like to try selling this game at $15 or even $10 pricetag. Why? Because I've seen SO MANY TIMES people suggesting "you should lower your game prices to sell more" and so on. And I've tried several times with different products, and every time I made less money :D But then I thought: one thing I've never tried so far is having a game with a low price from day1!

This won't mean that this game will be short or crap, more like it won't have as much texts and multi-branching plot like my other usual games, because that's what can increase dramatically the costs. Spending extra money on art can increase the game cost, but spending 2 extra months is even worse because time is the most important resource for an indie (and for anyone in general).

Since most people don't care much about tons of multiple possible endings, I plan to make this game story quite linear, but with lot of characters and very cool battles, and only with some optional romance scenes. In the game there WILL be fanservice but will be completely optional - if you don't want to see it, you'll see none :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Official Planet Stronghold Strategy Guide available (plus in-game bonus items)

I've finally finished writing Planet Stronghold's official strategy guide! You can now purchase it for only $4.99 and get four unique extra weapons in the game (see picture below). The guide comes as PDF download, and once purchased it also adds four new items in the game. To get the items, you need to start a new game and make sure you're connected to internet. After you get the activation message, you can then continue play the game offline as usual. Please Note: if for some reason you use a different email to buy the guide from the one you used to register the main game, please email me to activate the new in-game weapons!

The guide is over 50 pages and is full of tips & tricks, including:

  • how to defeat the boss enemies
  • the right dialog choices during the romances subplots
  • which are the best items of the game and how to get them
  • some "cheats" and "exploits" that you can use to your advantage ;)

To get the guide use this link:

If you're still not sure, check the preview below (an extract from the guide) to see what's the sort of stuff you can find inside it.