Friday, October 26, 2012

Heileen 3 status update

I think is time for an overdue update on Heileen 3 status. First I said would be ready last Summer, then this Fall... well, tecnically could still be out this Fall, since Winter begins the 21st December 2012, and I really hope to have finished the game by then! :)

You might wonder why such delay... well first of all, even if is not a RPG, Heileen 3 is probably one of the most important titles of my visual novel/dating sim category. So I am trying to make it more polished than previous titles. Check the two screenshots below:


Heileen on the ship bridge by night, nice atmosphere


Heileen and Marie in a farm / flower plantation

As you can notice I hired a pro artist to do the backgrounds this time, since they always were a weak point of my past games. While not super detailed I think they look quite good with the characters in the foreground.

The downside is that since I found the artist only last month, and such backgrounds require some time, only the backgrounds will probably take 1 month of work. However it's not artist's fault, but mine because I waited too long before starting commissioning the backgrounds.

Yesterday also decided to have a full OST for Heileen 3, not with many tracks, but beside the main theme song, even the other 4-5 tracks in the game will be custom. I plan to offer the OST as download during the pre-order phase.

Finally, in case you missed it, the game is not going to be a pure visual novel, but more a life sim. You'll be able to learn several skills and like in my other game Spirited Heart, you'll be able to get either a romance ending with one of the 4 boys (and later the yuri version will be released which adds 4 girls) or you can get a "profession ending". Indeed, if you raise your skill high enough in a particular field, you'll become a master in that profession and the game will end.

Just to complicate the things, each profession ending is tied to the virtue/sin system. For example, to become a nun, not only you need to have a high Faith skill, but obviously you also need to have a high Chastity virtue. We could argue that a good nun shouldn't have any "high sin level", but well for sure the Chastity is the most important! (and for gameplay reason I need only 1 virtue/sin associated to each job)

So as you can see even coding this part is not going to be quick to do. While is not a complex RPG like Loren, it still requires some extra coding/testing before I can start the pre-order stage, which should only reveal some well hidden bugs.

I'd dare to say that my estimate release date for Heileen3 is the first week of December, approximately 3 years after the second chapter! crossing fingers :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Continuing romances from previous games

In the image above, you see the "Romances Graph", a thing I like to make for all my RPGs, since romance plays an important role in all my games :)

In practice describes all the romance options available when playing the game with both characters (genders).

Those of you who played the first Planet Stronghold game will be happy to know that I'm not writing it myself :D so you can expect a much better writing this time! Aleema is in charge (same writer of Loren Amazon Princess) and from what I've seen so far, it will be awesome. Maybe it's because I'm a fan of sci-fi but reading the intro scenes got me the chills!

There will be time to talk about the new, refreshing plot (which will show the main character not as the classic "invincible hero", but more his/her human aspect) but for now I want to talk about the great idea the writer had, to continue the previous game romances.

I must say in the beginning I was scared since was something I never tried to, and was unsure about how/if that could work. But now I'm sure it was a great idea!

For those worried about keeping 4-5 versions of the first game save files, no worries: I've decided that is pointless to do that. I mean, since the only information passed from the first game to the sequel is who you were loyal to (Empire or Rebels) and who you romanced (which character), I thought to just show that as choices to pick during the character creation, as seen below:


It's much simpler to do that ;) in the same screen you can choose the difficulty level, your class and other stuff yet to be coded. As always remember that the screenshots posted here are all work in progress and might differ a lot from the final version.

So, based on your initial choice, the game changes, showing different scenes for every romanceable character. For example below is a screenshot from the Joshua/Rebecca intro:


which you won't see if you picked another romance or for example Lisa. This leads to a lot of variety and increases the game replayability by A LOT! :)

At same time, it makes everything feel more epic. It's hard for me to describe with words, but instead of starting from zero, is like if you continue a story that apparently only ended a few years ago (of game time). Some romance intro are tender and romantic, other are tear-jerking, other are passionate, and so on. It's refreshing for once to start one of my games with an already established relationship, and makes you even more attached to your character and his/her partner.

Obviously you can pick the choice to have no previous romances, and also you'll be able to break your current relationship later in the story and pursue a new character. It will be interesting to read those scenes as well :)

Next time I hope to be talking about Heileen 3 and show you some of the rules for Planet Stronghold 2, since I'm still working on those. But I can say that differently from the first game it will use a perks system and lower scale skills.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Story based games with multiple point of view

The short video above is the introduction to my upcoming game Bionic Heart 2. What does it have to do with the title? Simple, because is a visual novel game that tells a story from multiple point of views (from now I'll abbreviate it with PoV).

For those familiar with the first title, this time you'll be able to play not only as Luke, but also as Tom, Tanya and Tina. If you don't know the first game, I urge you to find out about it immediately here!

Of course it's not a new thing. Several other games, movies, comics have used this peculiar form of storytelling. I find it very interesting... at least from my PoV ;)

I had this idea this Spring, when I was playing the game Heavy Rain, which uses this system too. And I thought it would work pretty well for the sequel of one of my early "cult" visual novels, Bionic Heart. Is fun how some games, despite selling much less than other games, can still be popular and have a following of "true fans". The first game definitely had many true fans!

Back to the topic, I find telling the story from multiple point of view very interesting. Because you can play as different characters and see the events and the various situations from their perspective, which is an interesting thing. Even in real life, how many times you wondered how it would be to be in someone else's shoes?

From the gameplay point of view, this is also interesting because decisions made with each of the four playable characters will have an impact on the game world and on the story. This really intrigues me, and since you always play in first person (even if you control a different character every time) it doesn't ruin the immersion.

A step forward could be having the option of choose which character to control in several situations. This is partly what I did on Planet Stronghold with the quests and the skills usage, but of course it was in a very smaller scale (also it was a RPG, so was only during short scenes).

Definitely making a game like that will result in a refreshing and interesting experience for the player, in particular for a game with several mysteries/secrets to unveil (like Bionic Heart 2!) but the effort in writing/planning it must not be underestimated, because is easy to make mistakes like plot holes or wrong chronological order of events.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Building a crafting system

Recently I'm working mostly on the visual novel Heileen 3 but in reality, I always work on 2-3 projects at once. I've been thinking about a crafting system, since 3 of my upcoming games (and maybe more!) could use it.

For sure, the simulation game Amber Magic Shop since it's based to potion making (and maybe will extend that to also items enchanting and some other stuff). But also the RPGs Planet Stronghold 2 and Loren 2 could use a crafting system! And maybe, even Spirited Heart 2 ;)

So I've been thinking how to do it properly, how to design a Universal Crafting System! (ta-daa!) My main sources of inspiration were Everquest 2, Atelier series, and some general consensus on how the crafting works in general in RPGs ;)

The ingredients

First of all, we need "ingredients" to craft stuff. That's obvious. Each ingredient is an item. It can be woods, peppermint, quartz, an used power cell, a dead rat, anything! Since the goal is to build a universal crafting system that can be used on any kind of setting (sci-fi, fantasy, modern).

Ingredients will have a quality: they can be common, rare, unique. I'm thinking to use Diablo/Torchlight coloring so the items are immediately recognizable based on their uniqueness.

They also have a Condition value expresse in percentage: when you fail a recipe, I thought would be bad to destroy the ingredients! so maybe, dependings on various variables/difficulty setting, the Condition value could deteriorate a bit (or a lot). Some items, like the unique items, could be immune to deterioration.

The skills

To craft, we need specific skills. There could be a game with a very simple crafting system in which you only need only one skill: Crafting. Then, the various recipes would have only a minimum Crafting value requirement (see below).

However, variety would be more interesting. In fantasy RPGs, is common to have several skills associated with crafting: a mage could have high Alchemy skill, being able to create healing/mana potions. Rangers or elves could be skilled in Fletching, the art of crafting arrows and bows. Dwarves might have a high Blacksmithing skill so they could forge impenetrable armors.

You got the idea. Each skill could be represented by a numeric value, and on each successfully crafted item the value could increase. Or we could extend it even further, allowing "level ups". You start with Alchemy at level 1 and the equivalent of an XP bar that fills up as you craft new items, until you get to level2 and you have access to new recipes.

In very specific games, like Amber that focus only on Alchemy, we might divide "Alchemy" in several subskills like "Potion Making", "Item Enchanting", "Herb Knowledge" and so on.

The recipes

Then, we need to know HOW to use the ingredients! The recipes are divided too in common, rare, unique (might increase the number depending on games, adding maybe "uncommon" too). Player might learn new recipes through random experimentation with the various ingredients and processes, so "ready-made" recipes could be very valuable since they list the exact amount of ingredients and the right procedure to make them. So for high level items, recipes might be worth a fortune!

Each recipe would list the ingredients needed, the amount, and skills required (see above). There could be recipes for Alchemy level 1, which everyone could attempt to do, or level 9, that would be inacessible except for the most skilled Alchemists.

The required skills might even be more than one, for example in Amber we might have a recipe to enchant a medallion that requires Item Enchanting level 3 and Potion Making level 2.

Each recipe should have several statistics, depending how deep the game crafting needs to be. There could be time needed (so you could make only a specific amount every day/turn), success chances (auto-calculated based on the difficulty and player skills) and quantity produced. Some recipes might produce just 1, super item, while other might result in 10 medium healing potions.

The process

This varies on item by item basis, and also how deep you want your crafting to be. In general there will be at leas one step, but there can be also several steps and each one will contribute differently to the end result.

For example, I got an interesting design doc several months ago by a twitter follower (Ariel Hofland) for Amber potion making. Quoting his email:

Players can use a [mortar & pestle] in order to grind down solid ingredients to powder.

Players now have 2 forms of ingredients: Powders and Liquids.

These ingredients have (hidden) properties, which can be discovered in 2 ways: Experimentation or intelligence/learning. The last way can be implemented in multiple ways. You could have wise men in the wider world (found by adventuring of some kind) which can teach you about certain ingredients and potions for a fee. Alternatively (or in addition), an high enough intelligence could be good enough to discover certain properties anyway (If it smells like sulfur, and it tastes like sulfur, you may not want to burn it)

Next step: the [Cauldron]. Players can decide how hot the cauldron and it’s contents should be. When you start, it’s filled with water. While making the potion, players should keep an eye on the water temperature, and add fuel/use bellows to increase it. (This also means the easiest potions work with cold water)

Players can put any ingredients in the cauldron. Dependent on all the properties (Including the hidden ones) – different things may happen. Similar properties will strengthen the effect, while opposite properties neutralize. Overdoing a certain effect (or at least doing this without proper knowledge) will result in failure. Each property has a basic element assigned to it. For example, combining a lot of Fire-type ingredients could lead up to a conflagration or explosion.

This would work perfectly on a turn-based crafting system. We could have some more difficult one by having a semi-realtime crafting, using "counter effect". This idea is taken from Everquest2.

For example, you start crafting a food item. Then you see a message on screen with the event/problem: "Spice Up" (you need to put more pepper on that soup!) and you need to click the corresponding icon quickly. The result, based on your quickness could be: Minor Flavor Loss, Flavor Loss, Major Flavor Loss, influencing the final Quality result of the produced item (food in this case).

As you can see there are really lots of options. For Amber I'm thinking to use the suggested turn-based approach, while I might try the semi-realtime for Spirited Heart 2.

The final result

Once you finish the crafting process, you'll have different outcomes. Again, this changes based on each game, but in general I'd say that we can have 3 possible outcomes:

  • good item: success. The item is more or less good (depending on various statistics). A healing skill might not be of top quality so only heal 80% of the supposed max listed in the recipe, but is still a nice healing potion!
  • average item: half success. The item might have counter effects. For example, it might be a healing potions that heals for 50hp, but also slows you down by 25% of your speed for 3 turns. You might still sell/use it, but it's not ideal...
  • failure! what a delusion! the item might explode completely, or you could end up with some funny (useless) item: a healing potion that poison you for 100hp damage :D

In case of success: The final quality of the item produced will be influenced by the ingredients level, the skills required level, and (if present) in the player skill during the crafting minigame. There might be also a bit of randomness because like in real life, there are several things outside our control that influence what we do. Obviously, the ingredients will disappear since we successfully crafted the item.

In case of failure: depending how bastard we want to be towards the player (lol) we could destroy the ingredient items completely, or reduce their "Condition", so they can try again until the items are completely destroyed.


That's it! I hope you found the reading interesting. By the way, if you have any suggestion on how to improve the crafting idea I wrote, I'm all ears!