Friday, November 30, 2012

Almost there!

Working on Heileen 3 has been my main focus in the past week. I finally managed to finish coding the simulation part. Below you can see the "Professions Screen":


The game will feature 14 unique "profession ending" with associate image

As you see to reach every ending you'll need to master an advanced skill (currently set at level 10 but during beta testing the value might change) and also have the required sin or virtue. Initially I didn't want to reveal them, but while playing I figured out that the combinations are so many that would have been more frustrating than fun for the player to discover all of them!

You'll be able to change your virtue/sin "alignment" through the various cutscenes in the game.

So getting the profession ending definitely won't be as easy as in my other raising sim, Spirited Heart ;) but I think will be more rewarding.


The infamous wheel of time and a chibi during the simulation

In the screenshot above instead you see what happens after you choose your daily activity: the "wheel of time" will start spinning and advance through the various parts of the day: morning, midday, evening, night. In some cases at a specific time of the day a cutscene will appear, and you'll be able to play it to change your virtues/sins or the relationship with other characters.

The simulation part is all automated, since I didn't want to overcomplicate the game too much. However there is still some strategy involved, like inviting one of the character to join you. This can give you a positive or negative bonus (or simply give no bonus). In this case you'll have to find out the best character for each activity ;)

Also, each "land activity" (those that raise the advanced skills) will have two skill requirements. For example, the activity Dancer will require two basic skills: Charisma at level 3 and Endurance at level 1. Which means that first you need to raise Charisma at level 3. The value will change as you level up, so Dancer level 2 will require Charisma at level 4 and Endurance at level 2, and so on. In my playthrough I was able to reach level 10 in one advanced skill in 258 days of in-game time.

I titled the post "almost there" because the game is really almost finished, all that is left (beside testing) is some background art and more chibis, and the addition of a few more scenes.

I hope to be able to start testing/preordering the next weekend (8-9th December) and release the game by mid-December!

Friday, November 23, 2012

What's next?

I was quite busy this week working both on Heileen 3 and Bionic Heart 2 (you see a new video of it above), so this post will be mostly an attempt in having a sort of "planned release schedule".

December 2012

As you probably know already, I really hope to release Heileen 3 sometimes during December (hopefully in time for Christmas!). The beta testing will begin soon for sure, but the final game release is still unknown (depends how many bugs people find in the beta!). Anyway, all that's left beside 10 more "random events" is for the simulation parts: 21 chibis, some small artwork, a few texts, some more balancing. I believe it's just a week or two of work.

In December I should also have one of my first games on the new Monkeycoder engine, so available also on iOS/web.

January/March 2013

Between those months, I'm surely going to release the yuri version of Heileen 3 (which I really wanted to release at same time as the main game this time, but alas because of problems with the original writer I couldn't). Also, Bionic Heart 2. The background art for that game is all done, the plot is finished, but there are still some sprite images that needs to be colored.

April/June 2013

Here things gets more difficult to judge. My goal would be to start Planet Stronghold 2 beta in early April, but you know, with RPGs is hard to know since they're so hard to make ;) I might just have one of my other games in a good advancement state and release it. Possible candidates are Roommates and Nicole.

Late 2013

Anything is possible! I really hope to have finished Planet Stronghold 2 by that date, and one of the other games. Maybe even Spirited Heart 2 or Amber's Magic Shop. But is very likely that at least one of those two games will slip into 2014!

As you can see I've got quite a busy schedule ahead. Now excuse me but I need to get back to work ;)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bionic Heart 2 and moving past visual novels

Right now I'm finishing Heileen 3, but I'm also working on two sci-fi games: Bionic Heart 2 and Planet Stronghold 2. As the title suggests, both are sequels. Bionic Heart was one of my first visual novel, and if I compare the artwork and the writing of that first title with the new one, the difference is immediately noticeable:


One of the first scenes of Bionic Heart 2, the shuttle to Mars

I am not hiding that the first game was a very controversial game. Was one of the first western visual novels to get some attention in many japanese sites (probably the combo of the sexy android + romance did it) but also one of my worst selling games ever (beaten only by Vera Blanc!).

So why I made this sequel you might ask? Well first of all, I am indie because I have a passion for games. Even if I need to make money to live, I still have room to make some "game experiments" from time to time. Bionic Heart 2 will be one of them.

Second, because I never knew if the insuccess of the first game was because of the sci-fi theme, which typically appeals men more, or because of the game quality that, overall, wasn't really good.

Apart for some "social boss fights" that are some kind of mini games to be fight picking sentences in the right order, the game plays like a regular visual novel, albeit with multiple point of views. I can say already that unless the game does pretty well, it will be my last visual novel ever.

And here I get to my title. I'm definitely moving past visual novels, at least in the immediate future (God only knkows what I'll do in 5 years from now!). But don't worry, by that I mean the "pure visual novels", like the first two Heileen games. Dating / life sims like Always Remember Me or Spirited Heart are another thing.

Why I made that decision? Because I want to focus more on the gameplay, play mechanics, to reach a broader audience. I always liked to design gameplay, life simulations, and RPGs. While for RPGs I said I won't release more than one a year, for dating/life sims I plan to do them more often.

Also who knows, maybe I could try my hand in future in making a classic adventure game, either first or third person view. Or do something different, but still story-based.

This of course, unless Bionic Heart 2 does really well. It should be out at the beginning of the 2013 so I'll find that out pretty soon :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Leveling up in Heileen 3

I know the title seems weird. After all Heileen 3 is a dating sim, a life sim, but not a RPG. So what's about this level up thing? Well, first of all, in the game there will be all the classic relationship bar/values we're used to in dating sims, as you can see in the screenshot below:


The romance subscreen in Heileen 3 status screen

Before going on I want to clarify again, that the main game will have otome romances but only because the yuri version was delayed - this time it wasn't my plan to release them separately, I wanted to have them both ready on launch day, but alas had some problems during the yuri development path :)

The next screen could still be common in a life simulation or a dating sim, even if the theme is quite original (the Seven Sins / Virtues):


The Seven Sins / Virtues subscreen in Heileen 3 status screen

Those aren't bars, but "sliders". Meaning that they don't fill up, but the thumb can move towards the left if you're a "Sinner", or on the right if you're a "Saint". The values will be a requirement to get a specific ending.

What I'm talking about, regarding the leveling, is the new skills system I have designed. In my previous life/dating sims, you had a bar with a value from 0 to 100 (usually). It was ok, but this time I wanted to do something more interesting: the skills are divided into levels. So for example you start at level 1 of Wisdom, and donig certain activities you raise the values up to 100, after that the counter resets but you gain Wisdom Level 2. It works exactly as the experience bars of a RPG.


The Skills subscreen in Heileen 3 status screen

This will have several implications on the gameplay and will make the game more interesting. Differently from Spirited Heart, your skills values will never decrease, but if you had a bad day they will just increase by a slow value: in this context, even gaining values like 2-5 points is not a big improvement, considering the scale 0 to 100 and the level which will probably go up until 10 or later.

Other examples of new features include the possibility to ask one of the characters to join you in your activity, and depending on the choice you'll get a bonus or not. For example asking Juliet to do Fencing will surely be a good idea, while asking her to help you in Farming... well let's just say that you might not get a very polite reply!

Discovering who likes what will be part of the game fun and I'm sure will require me to write a strategy guide or walkthrough later in my forums ;)


One of the new background locations of the game

Right now the music of the game is being done, using only natural instruments (live guitar, etc) and the background artwork is being finished. I still believe the game should be out in the beginning of December, at least the preorder phase!

Stay tuned, and next week will talk about a very different game, Bionic Heart 2.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Loren Amazon Princess vs Planet Stronghold

As you can guess from the title of this blog post, I'm going to compare the two RPGs I made (so far). I'm not comparing them to decide which one is the best, because it wouldn't be fair ;) I mean, Planet Stronghold had a budget of 1/4 of Loren, and was made completely by myself, so it wouldn't be fair to be compared to Loren.

I'm going instead to examine the various gameplay element based on customers feedback and random forum/blog post I've encountered searching for my games around the net. For each point I'll give my personal opinion, but I'm quite sure that it mainly depends on your tastes!

From now on I'll refer to Planet Stronghold as "PS" and Loren Amazon Princess as "Loren" to save time!

The Inventory

PS uses a "classic" system: each character has his own separate inventory, they can trade items but for example if you didn't select a character in the party, his items are unavailable during the mission.
The equipment slots are only 3, weapon, armor and usable item.

Loren uses a more "modern" system: shared inventory between all the characters. It's less realistic, but more practical to use (minimizes the amount of clicking you need to do).
There are 13 equipment slots and a much more intuitive inventory system.

My opinion: there's no doubt that Loren's inventory is much more practical. It might be less realistic, but it has so many improvements over PS that is the clear winner here.

Vendors, items and impact on gameplay

Because of the setting, PS doesn't have currency, so you get new items automatically as you progress in the story, and through special quests. Since PS uses a finely crafted combat system, where each battle was tested well, I think the weapons and armors have more impact on the gameplay than in Loren, albeit there are only 40 different weapons/armors. This also because I used a "low-HP" system, where even 5hp of damage difference matters a lot especially in the early battles.

Loren has currency, and through grinding you can afford to buy better equipment even if the best stuff is found in the quests (in particular the new character personal quests of the expansion).

Loren has a very big database of items, reaching almost 1000 different weapons, armors, usable, gems, etc. So much more variety.

A mistake I made in the design of Loren was to have weapon damage as a proportional result of the character skills, and use many hit points for each enemy/character. So in practice the impact of the weapons statistics while still noticeable, is not that big. In a game where enemies can have from 80 to 500hp, the difference between powerful weapons and medium weapons can be of less than 15-20hp on each hit. Luckily, elemental damage still applies, so there's still some strategy involved.

My opinion: I think PS is slightly better than Loren, even if depends on your gaming tastes. In PS you need to find better weapons to win the hardest battles, on Loren is more about the skill combinations you use in battle.

Battle System

PS has 4 vs 4 battles. There's less strategy related to positioning on the battlefield, since there isn't a front and back row. The mechanics though, as noted above, seems to work well, in particular the aggro system.

Loren has a much more complex battle system featuring a 6 vs 6 fight, with a front and back row.  It has everything a fantasy RPG is supposed to have, including buffing, healing, area of effect attacks, guard other players, many types of attacks, and so on.

My opinion: They're two different experiences. In Loren you can have more variety of tactics, battles tend to last longer especially at hard difficulty. Battles in PS in general are quicker, because there are less units on screen and except some special cases, enemies can't resurrect allies. Loren has more variety of strategies and combos, but I don't mind PS different approach.

Classes, Skills and Quests

In PS there are 4 classes: Soldier, Scout, Guardian and Psionic. The skills are 23, including the psionic skills. They use a big scale system, so values 0 to 200. On each level up you can assign skill points. The main problem is that the impact is not extremely noticeable. If you add 3 skill points on Sniper Weapons you'll get +1 damage on each attack. Which is not really much. So takes several level ups before you see the effects of your choices.

The max recruitable characters are only 8, but in any case the characters have the same skills (even if different classes). So there aren't character unique skills like in Loren.

One thing that was really appreciated by players is the impact of the non-combat skills on the gameplay. During several points of the game, you can decide to use a skill to perform a specific task, changing the result of the mission. A door might need Lockpicking to be opened, you can throw a grenade if you have enough knowledge of Explosives, and so on.

The quests have more variety, since depending if you play as the Empire or the Rebels you'll see the same enemies but have very different goals to accomplish.

In Loren, the system used is the skill tree. There is a base Class (Warrior, Thief and Mage) and a specialization Class with a unique skilltree containing 5 skills. The total recruitable characters including the expansion is 14, so you have a very good variety of skills and attacks!

The story is more linear than PS (except for the expansion), so it's more like reading a good book and fight battles at certain intervals. The fact that there aren't non-combat skills limits the roleplay part to only the battles.

My opinion: In this case I think they both have pro and cons. The PS skills system is good because has a series of skills that can be used also outside the combat. It's optional of course, but is interesting in some quests being able to use Explosives, Survival, Charisma skills to avoid a battle or see a different outcome. Something that Loren missed. On the other hand, the big-scale skills of PS didn't work really well, while Loren's skilltree was better. I think the ideal solution is a mix between the two, with lower scale skills (0 to 10 or 20).

Romances and Relationship System

PS has less romance options than Loren, but the dialog choices that increase/decrease the relationship are non-trivial and better integrated into the story. There are several points in which picking a choice will increase the relationship in some characters and decrease it in others.

Loren has a LOT of romance options, a much longer romance path (and of course much better writing!) but as many people complained, is like playing with autopilot: to increase the relationship with a character will be enough to pick the dialog option  "(Romance)". While there are some occasions where other choices impact the relationships (like fighting Krul or not will impact your relationship with Amukiki) in general there's less freedom.

My opinion: In this case, the system used in PS is better, because is non trivial and also more realistic: taking a stance on a particular topic is very likely to create friends and enemies, like in the real world. Loren's approach is more casual, and even if I decided to make it that way on purpose, probably it wasn't a good idea.

In Conclusion

I'd like to add that making the "perfect RPG" is hard, also because every RPG player has a different idea of what is the perfect RPG. Loren might have been better with non-linear quests and non-combat skills, while PS could have used more variety of skills and combat actions, and a better writing.

I'd say that while Loren is very complete RPG under the combat aspect, and has much better story (in particular the romances), variety of enemies, is much longer, Planet Stronghold has more gameplay elements: beside the battles indeed, there are the skill choices, the minimap exploration with random places, the training facility where you can train your characters, and so on.

So in the end when I hear some people saying that one of the two games is better than the other I think it mainly depends on what you're looking for in a RPG game. Personally, I like both games for different reasons ;)