Friday, April 27, 2012

The Release Candidate

What is it? As Wikipedia says:

A release candidate (RC) is a beta version with potential to be a final product, which is ready to release unless significant bugs emerge. In this stage of product stabilization, all product features have been designed, coded and tested through one or more beta cycles with no known showstopper-class bug.

So, I'm proud to present you Loren Amazon Princess version 0.97a which is a release candidate! Download it here:

The game should be playable from beginning to end and not contain any blocking bugs. Does it means it doesn't contain ANY bugs? not even a wrong text, or a slightly different value in gold, or some skills report a slightly different damage prediction, or...?

Again Wikipedia is useful:

A release is called code complete when the development team agrees that no entirely new source code will be added to this release. There may still be source code changes to fix defects, and changes to documentation and data files, and to the code for test cases or utilities.

Once the game is released as version 1.0, we'll keep releasing updates to fix any new bug that might be found, while we work on the expansion for the game.

Murphy's Law at work

In the last 3 days I've seen all possible things to happen to prevent the release candidate to be tested. First, a few days ago I uploaded a wrong build myself (0.95) that had a crashing bug early in the game. But that was my mistake because I didn't retry the game from beginning, as I should have done.

Then yesterday (I live in GMT timezone) was the last drop: the new version was uploaded, but SOMEHOW the file was corrupted! It's the first time that this happens in over 5 years that I'm indie. How can a file be corrupted, if shows the right size on FTP ? A mystery, really, especially considering that I uploaded it in one single try, and connection didn't drop.

Anyway I uploaded it again, and several people tested it confirming that it works.

A few final words

I'll do a proper "post-mortem" about Loren next month, but all I can say is: making RPG game like this one is really very very hard. It was stressing. I was foolish for not having an autoupdater system in place. It was a real pain, even with the help of Aleema (writer) and Anima (RPG coder) that really did an awesome job, and I want to thank them again publicly for what they've done.

But as simple fact: it had the logest development time and it's the most expensive game I've ever attempted to make. Will it be ignored by the main press as always happens for my games ? Won't end on any big portal (Steam...) like usual? So in the end, after all this time and money spent to make the game, it was worth it?

I think it was worth it, no matter what will happen, since I'm very proud of the result. However, if I must say the whole truth, I am not looking forward to make another one before next year minimum (this doesn't include the expansion of course). I need to RELAX! :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Word of mouth power


First of all, let me say farewell to my cat Orfeo, 7 years old. Found him dead on the road nearby our house 2 days ago :( Man, how I wish I could get a house far away from all the roads and crazy drivers...

Word of mouth ?

Getting back to the post topic: word of mouth is really one of the most powerful marketing tools available for indies. Very few indies can afford to spend lot of money on advertising, and many don't get covered by the biggest review sites. Of  course, some do, but mostly indies doing games in popular genres, not "niches".

As a visual novel/dating sim author, is quite hard to get covered. Even Planet Stronghold which is mainly a RPG, probably didn't get much coverage because of the "excessive texts" problem. I remember a reviewer politely emailing me, saying that they would rather not cover PS because they would have to give it a bad rating because it has "too much texts".

I believe it wasn't just the text amount though, but also the quality, since Loren The Amazon Princess RPG has over 175,000 words of texts but so far nobody said "it has too much texts"... ;) Did I mention I'm not going to write directly any of my games anymore? ok good!

Anyway, what happened this month? In some very popular RPG forums, people discovered my game Planet Stronghold. Here are the forums threads:

Let's say that in the beginning the tone was definitely NOT positive towards my game :D But on the other hands I could understand since they were comparing it to Mass Effect 3! But then... something incredible happened! Some people realized that behind the manga artwork (which somehow is associated with younger audience, like if is a negative thing!) and the slow beginning, there was a full featured RPG with armor, resistances, different attack types, skills, moral/ethic decisions and so on, and some of them started to be literally enthusiast about it!

Of course, despite what they say, I know that my game is NOT better than Mass Effect 3 :) But I think that it offers something that most games nowadays don't include: gameplay. The few AAA games that have been successful in recent years, beside top production values, also include lot of gameplay/innovations.

Anyway, this month's sales for Planet Stronghold have been much higher than normal, thanks to the "word of mouth" started by those threads but also by other people talking about it as a consequence. I got many new members in my own forums, and got suggestions for the sequel. I even got a journalist from RockPaperShotgun online magazine to play it, and while I don't know if it will be actually reviewed (so many good indie games out recently), before it was always ignored!

Sometimes, to have some "success" (modest in my case, of course) you just have to be patient and wait. Make the best game you can, and then be patient, because remember, not all the indies have quick success stories like Mojang.

One last thing before I forget: Loren version 0.94 is now ready! Get the update here, and the full changelog in my forums.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Getting covered

I'm not talking about getting coverage as indie, but getting the characters of Loren RPG covered! As you can see below, was enough a spell by Apolimesho the Archwizard to give a proper cover to those excessively undressed fantasy heroes:

Coveredspell exceptions...


Jokes apart, I decided to put more cover to some characters based on customer's feedback. Initially I admit I wasn't much convinced, I kept thinking "well, I'm an indie, so I should do what I feel right". However some friends and my writer Aleema convinced me that having an OPTION (because you can still play the game without any cover of course!) was not a bad idea. For example some users in my forums mentioned being quite embarassed to play the game on netbooks while traveling in public places, or when some family members were asking what they were doing...I pictured the scene in my head:

- "What are you doing, son?"
- "Hi dad! I'm playing an awesome indie RPG game!"
- "Oh! RPGs? You mean those games with mages, swords, dragons and... wait. What is that? Boobs!?"
- "..." (covers face in shame)

So, since there was already an option to skip the ending romance scenes, we have tied it to showing covered characters, but you can conveniently toggle it on/off with 2 mouse clicks ;)

I also got the battle voices, and made a very short video showing some of them:

I know I know that now the question is... when the next version will be out? the one with the voices? the one with many bugfixes? the one with the full plot/romance implemented?

Well, while I cannot say for sure, it should be out this weekend! As usual follow me on twitter or Facebook to be updated in real-time :)

Bionic Heart 2 prototype


During some pauses in Loren development I started prototyping the dialog system for Bionic Heart 2. My goal is to make a sort of RPG-style dialog system, similar to those seen in classics like Fallout: some choices will be tied to specific skills and on the left will be displayed a sort of scheme of the dialog, showing the various possible paths (icons represent a choice that needs a specific skill).

I'm still in the early design stages though, and since Loren has full priority I'm working on this only during the pauses. I know, working on another game when you have a free moment is a bit weird but... :D

By the way, speaking of Bionic Heart, I made the port to Android even of that game. You can play the demo here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Androids, drakes and college

Don't worry, the cryptic title of my blog post can be easily explained.

Androids: because I finally had time to take a break from working non-stop on Loren The Amazon Princess RPG, I made the Android port of Heileen! I chose that game since is one of the simplest as gameplay (is a basic Visual Novel). I kept the original resolution of the game, so if you play it on a tablet the resolution will be good, while on phones with smaller resolution the game will scale down.

It's available for only 4.99 in the Android marketplace:

It has been tested by several people on various devices and nobody had any issues, though on devices with small screen size like phone can be a bit problematic to play, so be warned!

But androids also because I've started writing Bionic Heart 2! I've only made the storyboard for the 3 first scenes, but the new writer is doing a good job with it so far. It's cool to be able to finally resume working with Bionic Heart's universe / characters again after almost 3 years since the first game release.

Drakes: because the chapter4 of Loren is basically finished, and contains a big battle against a Giant Drake which will be one of the toughest enemies of the game. The plot is only missing some romance scenes, but I'm also waiting for 4 new backgrounds and the battle voices to do the next update which will have the full game available (including the romance scenes!). I hope it to be ready sometimes next week or no later than next weekend!

College: because finally I found a replacement writer for the Roommates game, and seems I'll be able to resume working on it at normal speed again! We're redefining the game structure/gameplay and the various breaks, changing the game from being Quarter based, rather than Semester based (so there are more breaks which will lead to some cool scenes like Winter / Spring Break).