Friday, March 25, 2011

Downloadables are dead, long live downloadables


In the picture above, Otello happily posing in middle of the flowers. I love spring :)

As you could guess from the title, this is a rant-post. I've heard so many discussions recently about the dying downloadables, how online games is the future, and so on. It's a very complex discussion, so I'm not going into every detail (also because I want to talk about my games) however I feel the need to say a few things:

  • "dead markets" doesn't mean that you cannot make any profit in them. It only means that the main hype moved elsewhere. Also, since there's less hype, means that there's also less competition. I believe that as indie, having less competition is much more important than having a bigger potential target market.
  • speaking for my games, in general story-based games works best as single player. I've never played a multiplayer game that also was immersive or told me a good story, simply because storytelling requires only one viewer/spectator. If you give other people the possibility to influence a plot or ruin the mood, don't worry, they'll absolutely do it (anyone who played a MMORPG surely has met people that would destroy the fantasy setting atmosphere in a second with some typical US-slang words :D)
  • remember that very big portals are still using the downloadables model. Big Fish Games in the casual world, Steam, D2D, Gamersgate, Impulse and others for the more "hardcore/niche" games. They're not going to disappear overnight, and I believe not even in 5-10 years
  • also as indie, we're different from big publishers and most of the discussions don't apply. Look at Spiderweb games. Old-school RPG are dead, right? since about 1990. He is not doing well indeed. He is doing extremely well! As indie (especially if you work alone or in a small team) you don't necessarily need to sell a $1 game to 100,000 people in a week, but you can have better luck trying to sell a $20 game to "only" 10000 in several years. That makes quite a difference!

That said, of course online games/web games can be profitable! I never said the opposite. Only that they require a completely different subset of skills vs the traditional downloadables, and also on marketing. I am currently doing research to make some online games as well, but it's a big step for me. Most of the successful online games are run by a team, with a few exceptions, and don't want to committ myself to something "too big" yet. I could do some experiments though.

For example, an idea I recently had was to add an online mode to Planet Stronghold. You would play online battles (not PvP though, at least initially) and as you win you would get experience, money to spend on better equipment or buying skills, and so on. It would be completely separated from the main game, so that I was even thinking to sell it as stand alone game or maybe use the free-to-play model. However I'm not sure if there's enough interest to justify the time I'd have to spend to do this (especially coding the server part), even if it wouldn't be a completely new game since I would be able to reuse good part of the normal offline game system.

In general I think that while visual novel, dating sims, and other similar games gain zero benefits from being online, other kind of games like RPG, simulation, strategy games can become more interesting with new online features.

Speaking of dating / life sim, I've made more progresses on Remember Me this week, and some events are really cool like the one below:


Who is this mysterious secret admirer? you'll have to play the game to find out, even if honestly is not that difficult!

I've also got some important news about the other games in development. Flower Shop: Winter In Fairbrook is getting close to the release! I don't have yet an exact date, but should be before next June, so not much left to wait. I'm currently writing (with help of external writers) and getting the art done for the simulation/RPG game Queen Of Thieves and the comic-RPG game Loren: Amazon Princess. My sports simulation game Universal Boxing Manager 2 is also going on well, even if right now there's not enough to make a video, since the coder is mostly doing stuff that appears behind the scenes (statistics, AI, gameplay, and so on).

My planned release schedule (which surely will be messed up completely) would be:

  1. Mid/End-April - Remember Me
  2. End of May/June - Flower Shop: Winter In Fairbrook
  3. July/August - Loren The Amazon Princess
  4. September/October - Queen of Thieves
  5. November/December - either the superheroes game or maybe UBM2

Friday, March 18, 2011

Announcing a superheroes game!


In the picture above, Gilda in a very cute and funny pose/expression. She's adorable :)


In this other picture instead you see the "good" superheroes, led by that mysterious undead girl, who is indeed called  "Undead Lily" (cool name for a superhero, eh??). If you're put off by the nudity of some characters don't worry, in the game they'll be covered "by default" and you'll have to enable the sexy version in the options!

The game is obviously in a very early stage, meaning that actually there's only a few pictures and a storyboard, and nothing else. With this game I'm going to mix some genres again, this time a real-time RPG battle system (think about Final Fantasy) with a more strategic / simulation part where you have to manage your heroes headquarter, building new weapons, researching new stuff, and so on.

The main gameplay of this title would be something like this (I am still brainstorming, if you have any suggestion feel free to post in my forums!):

  1. you would have to control a team of good and a team of bad superheroes. I think this aspect would be quite fun. In practice the starting plot condition would force the two teams to work together, even if obviously they are opponents.
  2. each team is made by 5 superheroes, associated to one of the following elements: Death, Life, Fire, Air, Water, Earth (the elements will be also key component for a rock-paper-scissor mechanic in the battles)
  3. At a certain point, the teams will split again. Each team will be lead by the Death character, which for the good side is Undead Lily, and for the evil side is "Big Blind".
  4. Except those two fixed characters, you will be able to recruit a team based on your relationship values with each of the remaining heroes. The relationship will start neutral and change during the first phase, using the usual relationship system present my other games. Most of the choices will be mutually exclusive, since you'll be forced to have one of the two heroes for the four remaining elements.
  5. This should guarantee a good replayability since everytime your choices might be different and you might end up with a different team of heroes.
  6. From this point, there will be another good part of the game/story that will see you face the other team and other creatures, and this is also where the strategy part will take place: each team will have a headquarter where they'll be able to research new blueprints, build new weapons/items and train some unique superheroes skills. To do that, you'll need resources that you will gather with the fights - so in practice it will be somehow an equivalent of the crafting you see in the fantasy RPGs.

That is the basic idea I have for the game. Of course, from now until the game gets finished (I believe might be next year!) things could change a lot!

One thing is sure: I'm finding myself a lot "burned" after making Planet Stronghold, so the RPG, and simulation part of this game will be very simple/casual, like Spirited Heart for example. I think (and so far my sales data confirm this) that I make my best games when I don't excessively overcomplicate them. Considering that adding more details/stats/complexity also takes more time in coding and testing, you can see that I'm not really motivated to try making something as complex as Planet Stronghold anytime soon! :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Every moment of your life is a simulation

In the image above, Lilli the cat sleeping inside a vase. She found it comfortable :)

Yes, every moment of your life can be simulated. Every action you do has consequences, that depends on your stats and skills. If you decide to play an action game, and you don't have enough hand-eye coordination, you'll have less chances of succeeding than someone else who does. If you don't know Enligsh, you'll have a very hard time to play my games. If you don't have internet, you cannot read this :)

Those are just some (silly) examples, but if you look at the Remember Me galery above, you can see that I am trying to simulate almost every aspect of a young lady in the modern times, even when you end the playing day and you go to sleep, it's a simulated event: you can have a good night, you can dreams, you can have nightmares, and so on. I'm particularly satisfied by how the game is coming along and I really hope that the cute artwork won't turn more "hardcore" players away because behind it there's a very complex life simulation, that can be enjoyed by any kind of player, I think.

In the gallery of pictures you can also see the new dialogue layout, which finally replaced my poorly done orange box (typical coder art) that you saw in the first game screenshots!

I'm still working on the game, and I have no estimate release date. However there are several features that are already in place:

- 8 different romance ending + 1 ending alone
- every game day is divided into several parts: dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, late afternoon, sunset, evening, night
- town map from which you can visit several different locations
- each location has several actions available that change based on: time of the day, required actions, plot status, your skills, and more (some of them will be fun to discover)
- the usual relationship system between you and the other characters in the game
- you can raise your stats doing specific actions in certain locations
- a mall where you can buy stuff. Some useless, other really useful for the game (some even required to unlock certain path with some characters)

I've instead given up the idea of doing an ice-cream minigame, because it really doesn't fit much in this kind of strategy/simulation game, and beside it has already been done lot of times, I want to make something more original, so I'd rather add more options/paths than spend my time in doing a sort of time management game.

I'm quite pleased since this game started as a simple dating sim, but it turned into something like my fantasy game Spirited Heart, but set in modern times :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Tao of indies!


In the picture above, Gilda and Grillo sleeping on the same basket. They seem to be forming a sort of Cat-Tao (or Dao)!

According to Wikipedia, the meaning of Tao is:

While the word itself literally translates as 'way', 'path', or 'route', or sometimes more loosely as 'doctrine' or 'principle', it is generally used to signify the primordial essence or fundamental aspect of the universe.

Today I want to talk about the Tao of indies! I hope my English will be up to it XD

Inspired by the friend/colleague Andy Schatz and his talk at this year GDC (I wasn't there but I've read lots of blogs posts about his talk) I want to remark how important it is, even for an indie, to follow your true inspiration, to do the game you want to do. Too much often I see indies working on "clone of game XZY" or "I had to change this because the publisher/distributor wanted it this way" and so on. Indies by definition should be free, free to do whatever they want.

Of course, you still have to keep some common sense and not start making the most crazy ideas that comes to mind! But the truth is that I've seen often projects that started as "quick diversive" (because you couldn't find the strength to finish the "big safe commercial project X") turn into great games. To summarize it better, I want to quote Andy himself:

“If you work on a game that’s really cool, you’ll either get recognition or you’ll make money,” says Schatz. But if you make a game to just make money, you’ll either fail, or you’ll make money. “So the way I see it is that if you make a game just to make money, that’s actually riskier.”

That's completely spot on. I know basically... nobody who made a game he hated AND made lot of money. Every single developer I see who made lot of money (and I know plenty) made it by working on a project he really loved.

For me, last autumn was a critical moment too. After the two Vera games that didn't sold very well, I was tired of writing VNs, and in general of making games! But at same time I felt almost like I completely forgot how to code, how to make a good game.

So, I decided to aim higher this time, and in 6 months I built a RPG framework on top of the Ren'Py engine and wrote Planet Stronghold. At first glance you might think that's simple, but in reality it's not at all. Writing the code for a RPG that features: a turn-based battle system, special attacks/effects on enemies and your party, inventory system, skills system, level up screen, training screen, exploration map, and probably something else I forgot, was a big effort.

But already from the first months, when I started the pre-alpha phase, and first sales started coming in, and at same time my almost desert forums started to see some activity of people suggesting new features / changes / improvements, I made peace with coding and once again I found the FUN in making the games, that I thought to have lost forever!

Because making games is fun. It should always be fun. If you're making a game, and you're not having fun, something is seriously wrong.

Next week will talk about progresses with the otome/lifesim Remeber Me, which hopefully will be out in April!