Friday, September 30, 2011

Numbers, numbers and formulas...

In the picture above, Batman looks broken. In reality, he was sleeping since hours...

What's about the numbers? Well, not many people know what's behind a game. It's much more complex than what you think. That is, if you do the things like a good game designer should! ;)

Numbers of a dating sim

What's behind a simple dating sim like Heileen 3 that I'm writing right now? nothing, you might say, it's just text and images, and a few choices. No, not really: the choices needs to be balanced, otherwise the gameplay would be a disaster! So, even for an apparently simple game like a dating sim, there's a lot of work behind the scenes. Check the image below:

this is the OpenOffice spreadsheet of the first 37 scenes of the game. In each row, I put a short description of the scene, and then I added a "1" when the choices possible involve one of the seven Sins or Virtues. Below, at the bottom (but is not visible in the screenshot), there's a formula called "Summatory" that sums all the values. Why? Because a well designed and balanced game should offer the player the same amount of choices for each of the seven Sins/Virtues!

So, while writing, I keep constantly open the spreadsheet, and I try to balance the game so that the player will always have the chance to  get one of the 14 possible job endings (tied to the Sins/Virtues).

I'm not going too much in the details since discovering the skill+sin/virtue combo will be part of the fun of the game, but for example, the "Nun" ending will involve having max Chastity and max Faith skill.

On the right part instead, there are the choices that will affect the 6 possible romances of the game. The labels means: Morgan, John, Jonathan, Sebastian (the 4 male characters, Sebastian is a new one) and Marie, Lora (the 2 female characters).

Numbers of a RPG!

If a dating sim is so "complex", imagine a RPG! Making a RPG without spending at least one month first designing the rules, is a suicide. Don't do that. I can guarantee that you'll be unsatisfied by the result.

Now check the OpenOffice screenshots below:

one is the condition/skill relationship for Loren the Amazon Princess RPG. How you read that? is a bit complex, but in practice:

  • the first table is the warrior skills. the cells with orange background require the target to be "Staggered". Once it is, you can use for example the Gladiator "Battle Cry" (which has chances to Scare enemies), or the Blademaster "No Mercy" (which has chance to Weaken the enemies).
  • the second table is the thief skills. Thieves have weak attacks, but if the target is in the right condition, they can deliver powerful critical attack using their skills. They can set a target in a specific condition themselves. For example, using the Flaming Torch on a Slowed target, they can set a target in the Burning condition too. Then, a Demonblood (Mesphit) can use the Immolation skill to deal an incredible amount of damage.
  • the third table is the mages. Differently from Warrior and Thief class, a Mage doesn't need any condition pre-requisite. They can just attack using their spells, which will inflict specific conditions as you can guess (Blizzard will inflict Frozen condition, Plague inflict Poisoned condition, and so on).

The second image instead is a work-in-progress of the weapons dabatase. Some values might not yet bet final. But as you can see there's already a good variety of items! We've decided to use the following weapon division based on damage type: Edged (dagger, sword, axe), Impact (mace, club), Flail (Flail, Morning Star), Polearm (Staff, Halberd), Bow, Missile (Crossbow).

Explaining all the values will take too long, but if you're familiar with RPGs you might understand already what is their use.

This was just to show the tremendous amount of work behind a RPG, and just for the skills and weapons (there's more, balancing the classes, the enemy encounters, and so on). Now you understand why I've decided not to make more than 1 RPG a year? :D

Homosexual relationship in games

I want to spend a few words about the homosexual relationship that I plan to put in all my future games. First of all, I am honestly a bit shocked by how Spirited Heart Girl's Love announcement was mostly ignored by the press and reviewers. It's not something new for me (I'm used to that) but this time was even worse than usual.

I really hope that is NOT because of main theme (women homosexuality) of the game, and hope is due only to random circumstances (I know from past years that September is not really one of the best months to do a new game release).

In any case, everyone who played the game said that the romances are much better than the original game, and in general the players' feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and that's what matters to me. So I plan to keep adding homosexual romance in all my future games, alongside the straight options, since all I care about is what my customers think!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fantasy or reality?

In the image above, my dog Artù (italian name for Arthur) watching my dwarf rabbit Cleo in the garden.

As those who follows me on twitter might know, I'm currently writing the scenes for Heileen 3. Initially I did a lot of research, since it's based on the pirates of the Caribbean, however I quickly realized that trying to keep it historically accurate was too much pain. And not just that, but it would have also been less fun to play for the users! So, I am just going to use that as "setting/background" but everything will be pure fantasy (for example Morgan the pirate was definitely not a kind man, and cats don't talk!!).

There's a reason why I (and I suspect many other writers) prefer to write fantasy stories. Be it classic swords & sorcery, or science-fiction, with a fantasy world as long as you plan it out beforehand, there aren't problem of inaccuracies, mistakes, wrong dates, and so on. Let me tell you, it's really MUCH MUCH easier! :)

However, I also like stories with a historical background setting, and a simple solution is to mix the fantasy with reality. In Always Remember Me, the story is set in a "unnamed warm town", like could be San Francisco, but there's no reference at all to real names or real events. In Flower Shop all the story takes place on "Fairbrook", a fantasy town somewhere in California, and so on.

There was a game I wanted to release by Halloween, but of course I won't make it in time (I didn't even start it!), which is a horror/mystery/otome game but will take place mostly in a hospital. The town could be any town in USA, and the equipment is modern, but ... there will be definitely some fantasy elements! ;)

And now a quick summary of the work-in-progress... progresses!

Heileen 3: New Horizons

That's what I'm mainly working on right now, even if the game will be out next year because the artist Rebecca can only work starting from January (except a few days in November but surely won't be enough to finish all the art!).

However, I like how the story is coming out so far, the gameplay system seems fun too (similar to Spirited Heart but with some changes) and we're also planning to have some mini-animations for each of the 14 activities! Though this mainly depends how long will take to draw the 14 different job endings, and the  6 romance endings CG (4 heterosex and 2 homosex).

Planet Stronghold: Warzone

Artist resumed working after a summer break, and currently has finished 2 romance CG scenes out of 8! There's a new team member called Milo, and a new NPC called Lakadema which is an alien with incredible powers but also very shy and fragile. You can see the images below (Lakadema image is not yet final):

As always I don't have any estimate, but considering I haven't finished writing any scene yet, for sure the game won't be out this year. Yes, RPGs take A LOT of time to make!

Loren The Amazon Princess

The plot writing is going forward steadly, we're at beginning of chapter3, and the game consist of four chapter so the end is on sight. Of course, I'm only talking about the end of the main plot, there is still the expansion to write (which I think will be around 1/3 of the main game length).

The battle system is at good point too but still need more accurate testing and probably also balancing. And all the enemies needs still to be created (have the art, but didn't plan their skills yet).

Below you can see the commander of the Amazon army Breza and the infamous witch hunter Raven (available only in the expansion).

That's all for this week!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Three years ago...


In the image above, my cat Otello looks broken! (in reality he's just sleeping peacefully)

Three years have passed since I released my first manga game, the dating sim Summer Session, made in collaboration with Hanako Games. It was July 2008, and was my first attempt in the world of visual novel/dating sims. Shortly after I started looking with extreme interest to Ren'Py, the library/tool that was used to make that game. I remember had never heard about it, the documentation was scarce, and had so many questions/doubts despite being a C/C++ coder! Questions that could be answered only by asking directly on the official forums.

After the initial "shock" though, I was quickly converted into a fan, the possibility to code in python, which was a breeze to work with compared to C, and the instant delivery on three platforms were awesome features!

Summer Session indeed was also the first of my games to fully support Linux, the first of a long series (in practice, all my next games used Ren'Py so they all support Linux!).

Around September 2008, I was also writing the last chapters for a small, ambitious attempt at making my first visual novel ever, Heileen. I always loved to write and the game was overall well received, but soon enough I found out that writing in a foreign language was something really hard for me, so for the next games I started using editors/proofreaders, until the most recent ones, where I hire writers to write the game texts for me based on my storyboard/scene descriptions (which is without any doubts the best solution!).

And here I am, three years later, still writing about Heileen, in the third installment (and very likely last) of the series. Same character, same setting, same artist: even if Rebecca told me that won't be able to work fulltime on it until January, so this means that sadly Heileen 3 will be out only next year (I hoped to release it around October to celebrate the third anniversary...).

As some of you might know, the kind of games I was making before was quite different. Sport simulations, tycoon games, wargames. However, I always loved to write and tell stories, so when I saw the opportunity I didn't think twice. Being paid to tell stories? There's hardly a better job for me! :D

Recently I tried going back to an old interest of mine - RPG or roleplaying games - and I think the first one, Planet Stronghold, was a good result. But I'm not satisfied, and even if those games are really hard to make, I want to try and make even better ones!

I sell mostly directly, and my products are a niche: I might not become famous, I might never get on Steam or any other big portal, but slowly but steadly I'm building a following of people that keeps my morale up, gives precious suggestions on gameplay, art, design and motivates me to wake up early every day to work on my games.

So, if those three years were simply amazing it's only because of you who are reading this post, you who played one of my games, you who decided to support my efforts financially. So to you, I say a big THANK YOU! :) And stay tuned, I still have many more stories to tell!

Friday, September 9, 2011

One RPG a year keeps the doctor away


In the photo above my cat Grillo sleeping deeply with a stuffed toy near him :)

Now you might wonder why I picked that title for my post? As you know I've always worked on many games at once, as a way to keep up with the occasional disappearances of artists. However, while this method is working well for my visual novel, dating sim and life simulation games, for RPGs is a different story. I've noticed that is very hard to keep focused on doing more than one RPG at once (lol, not a surprise!) so I've decided that, to avoid releasing poor/mediocre games, I won't be working on more than one RPG a year!

This doesn't include expansions or even sequels like Planet Stronghold: Warzone. When/if I can re-use most of the gameplay and rules of a previous RPG, then I believe that is possible to make even two a year, but if I have to create a new RPG from scratch... that's not possible!

I am not talking only about the coding. The coding is a tough part of RPGs, that's for sure, but what makes really hard to release a good one is the amount of content needed. I dare to say (and I'm sure most game developers will agree with me) that a RPG is the kind of game that requires more work of all the game genres. You need a story. You need several quests, which are basically subplots, and they need to fit in the main story and not be just stupid "kill 10 rats" quests (having some of them are OK, but not all quests should be like that). There's need of art, lots of art. Since I do mainly 2d games, every enemy is a sprite. How many enemies a RPG have? Planet Stronghold has 40, though some re-use the basic shape changing color/weapons. Loren RPG, my upcoming fantasy RPG will have 40-50 enemies as well, but they will be all different ones! So that's already a lot of work just for the art.

And last but not least, testing. Unless the RPG you're making is very linear and has "casual gameplay" (very simple rules), the testing will be a major pain ! :) You have to take into account every possible variable and combination, and often if you don't ,you end up with very mysterious bugs and unhappy customers (though I have to say that my RPG buyers were much more supportive than those of other games genres!).

So, what does this means in practice? that while I'll keep artists working on Undead Lily's artwork, I will release Loren RPG first, and Undead Lily next year. This way, I'll be able to release two quality products. Loren RPG is at good point - even if I keep adding "just one more enemy" since a month, the plot writing is going steadly and the battle system coding is almost finished. As I announced in my forums, once the RPG framework reaches a decent state I plan to release a small alpha to get user feedback and do some testing.

As for Planet Stronghold: Warzone, the artist said that after this last convention, she will work fulltime on it. There's need of quite some art, new enemies, a new playable character to replace the old Bellamy, and more CGs scenes for the romances. I don't have any planned release date, my idea is to keep this game going on parallel with the others and see when is finished. As I said, since I can reuse a good part of the previous Planet Stronghold code/rules/system, this game will be easier/quicker to produce than Loren RPG or Undead Lily.

So the plan is to try finishing Loren RPG by end of this year (no guarantees) and Undead Lily for summer next year, while Planet Stronghold: Warzone might really be finished anytime between the two. Obviously, I'll keep releasing visual novel and dating/life sim in the meanwhile, like I did this year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Spirited Heart Girl's Love is out!

Spirited Heart Girl's Love is finally out! Well, to be honest since I started this project only about 3 months passed, but seems an eternity...! I'm really pleased by the result, each girl has a very different personality, goals, and behavior. I am also happy because the race you choose really has a big impact over the story (even more than in the original game). It's particularly evident in some characters, like Leah or Reid: playing it with an Elf character will be a very different experience than playing it wih a Demon one.

The original game and the expansion now are a unique installer: I decided to adopt this system so is easier for the users, using the one-time online activation system already implemented in my latest games. This way if you want only one version of the game, you can buy it, but if you want both versions you can buy at once (with 25% discount) and enter the email one time to get instantly both versions activated without any need of extra downloads.

As promised, if you already own the original game, you can get the expansion for 50% off. For more informations, visit this page:

if you enter the email you used to purchase the original game in the input field below the game description, you will get a unique discount code, valid for a one time 50% discount on the standard price.