Thursday, February 28, 2013

February RPG: "Red Strings of Fate" Not Being Released!

Well that month went by quickly.

Sadly, February was a spectacular failure on my part to actually put rubber to the pavement and get the work done. It's so embarassingly unfinished that I can't even bring myself to put what little there is up for download. Instead, I'll use this post to explain what my goals were and what actually managed to get done. Since February has Valentines Day in it, I decided that it'd be great to do some sort of romance themed game.

Here's some pictures of my failure in progress.

The Plan

In my head, you'd be able to choose between a few different characters or create your own of either gender and then select one of 4 - 6 romantic interests (also spanning both genders). The story would begin with your character lamenting their lack of high school love life in the way that teenagers do, but then your character would mention finding a summoning spell.

At this point the lights come up on the protagonist's room where we find that you've already managed to summon Cupid to your aid. Cupid, being trapped until you fulfill your goal, lends you the power to see and manipulate (to an extent) the red strings of fate that attach soulmates to each other in myth and legend.

She's such a unique character.

Your choices are so diverse.

Then you are fully equipped to set out on your quest to woo your chosen one. You set out and endear yourself to them with the aid of "endearment points" which let you see a bit into the future relating to your loved one. So for example, in the screenshot below, Helen is about to run out of fabric for a sewing project. Wouldn't it be so handy if you were just passing by later with the fabric she needed? So you go out and grab some fabric and after you give it to her your red strings of fate are closer together. After you repeat this twice more (giving me a nice three act character arc for each romantic interest) your strings are close enough that you can go to an endearment point at a location close to your interest's heart and twist your strings together, thus binding the two of you together for eternity.

Now what I wanted to do here was let you get to the point where you are about to twist those strings and then decide that you're manipulating their feelings towards your end and that's not how relationships should work. Your character dismisses Cupid and works towards a lasting relationship with the romantic interest the old fashioned way: without super powers. The game ends on a positive note.

This screenshot shows you being far off from some lovin'.

Initially I was going to just have some sort of "bad end" where you ended up with this more or less completely devoted love-slave and your character goes on doing their thing. The more I thought about it, the more this didn't sit well with me because in a lot of games where pursuing a romantic interest is the goal the player doesn't consider the feelings of the (fictional) character that they're pursuing and wouldn't this be a great place to say something about that?

My revised "bad end" wasn't an ending at all. Instead, your character would throttle Cupid and take his powers for yourself and select a new romantic interest from the previous list (minus your new boy/girlfriend who is totally okay with this because they're your mind-slave) and continue the game with your previous conquest at your side. Eventually this would again escalate and- well, I won't bore you with all the details but you get the idea.

What Went Wrong

I am a master map designer.

There were three major problems that led to my disaster this month. The first is that, as you may have guessed, my scope was WAY too big. There's just no way I could've done all that work in one month; not that I expected to in the first place, but just having such lofty goals can be discouraging. The second was wanting to use art assets I didn't have. I envisioned this as a modern day setting RPG and I couldn't see it working any other way. I didn't have art for that setting already, so I had to go and get some because as I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, art creation is not my strength. Not having acceptable art led to me spending way too much time looking around on the internet for proper art assets and then fiddling with them to get the art just right and then trying to build maps so that I could build the rest of the game. The result was incomplete maps that I wasn't happy with and no game.

This map isn't so bad though. Just not good.

Finally, I just didn't put in enough time. At the start of the month I knocked out the red string of fate interface pretty quickly and was happy with that, but then I stopped working on the project for most of the rest of the month. There were days here and there where I'd pick it up and do a bit of work, but it was never enough to actually get anywhere. Then, when I was reaching the end of the month in the past few days I was panicking and cutting scope drastically but there just wasn't enough to build on.

I can blame things like Fire Emblem Awakening coming out or claim that maybe I had some burnout or something, but at the end of the day the fact is that I just didn't put in the time to make it good. Which sucks, but I guess that's the lesson I need to take away from this: just because I'm using a tool (RPG Maker) that does a whole lot for me up front, doesn't mean that I can slack off on working consistently. Like Perry Dawsey would say, "Ya got to have discipline."

This is the point last night where I gave up.

Looking Ahead

So even though I'm a bit dejected from my failure this month, I'm mustering up hope for March. I want to do something that doesn't require any extraneous art assets and something that can keep me motivated from month to month. I think this means that I should shoot for some sort of episodic thing. I don't know. Gonna keep thinking about it and worst case, I'll just wing it tomorrow. Whatever I do, I want to make more blog posts about what I'm up to, so stay tuned.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

January in Reflection

I wanted to take a moment and reflect on what I learned from January's RPG.

Things That Worked

Random dungeons worked well. They aren't always perfect, but they're fairly flexible and reliable for reproducing the same layout given a seed number. The only downside is that without a large varieties of rooms with a combination of edge types, the dungeons look a bit samey since the same rooms are repeated over and over. Overall though, this was a great success I feel. I'll definitely be looking into using this in the future.

Using default assets was amazing. Not having to worry about making my own art or finding someone else to make art for me was wonderful if not a bit limiting. I'm not an artist even on my best day, so having the RTP at my disposal was a blessing.

RPG Maker VX Ace was fantastic to work with. Despite having messed around with the program for years in my childhood, I had avoided using RPG Maker to make "serious" games. I felt like there was a stigma attached to it and that I would be better off writing my own game engine in XNA or C++ or whatever. However, the engine has turned out to be more than flexible enough for my needs this past month and that was a pleasant surprise. Perhaps even more surprising though was...

Ruby, and specifically RGSS3, the scripting framework that ties RPG Maker VX Ace together. Before January I had no experience with Ruby at all (though I did have some experience with Python) so it was nice to find that Ruby was easy to use. I'm not really clear on a lot of minuta still and my coding style with it is still a bit too Java/C++ judging by the samples I've seen around the web, but I'm getting there.

Cutting content I didn't have time for. More on this below.

Things That Didn't Work

Doing all the balancing on the last day. I was so focused on getting the dungeons generating well that I ignored any semblance of balancing equipment and monster stats against the player. The result was a frantic five hours as February slowly approached. I think I did an okay job in the end, but the difficulty curve is still a bit too steep especially at the beginning of the game. I did my best to compensate for this by letting you easily run past enemies and growing in power very quickly but it's something that should be improved upon later. Ultimately, I think I can improve upon this by planning out my month better.

Bugs. I say that these are prototypes in part because I anticipated not spending as much time on these as I would if I was going to call it a full game (or even think about charging money for it). There's quite a few bugs I noticed while doing a final pass for January. Chests would spawn when they shouldn't, they would spawn on top of each other and a few enemies spawned in walls pretty consistently. But to the best of my knowledge, there aren't any show-stopping bugs. The few story sequences all play out just fine in my testing and the game plays fine. If anything, the game is broken in the player's favor.

Infinite dungeon mode. This was the thing that I really wanted to get in for January. I envisioned the game's real value in being able to get a high score in this mode and then challenge a friend to try to one up you using your password. In my head, the password would seed the RNG so that everything spawned the same way on both playthroughs. Unfortunately, this mode only partly works. It was thrown together at the very last minute, maybe two hours before my self-imposed deadline. There are a couple problems with it, but the two biggest problems are that the monster spawns are always slightly different even given the same password, and the adaptive difficulty is a bit too hard. Unfortunately these were both things that were notice right before midnight so... they got pushed out of the way and I just had to release with them.

Worst of all in Infinite dungeon mode, it doesn't work! Trying it out in the initial release just generated a screenshot of the dungeon generation! Argh! This has since been fixed and anyone who downloads it from the previous blog post after 2/2/13 will get the fixed version. But still: argh!

Cut Content

I wanted to just quickly list a bunch of stuff that I had cut for time constraints:
10 floors instead of just 8
More random floors
More bosses
More room variety
Optional ally partners
Optional rivals
More floors in infinite mode (currently it cycles through three sizes)
More monsters
Better balancing
Generated puzzles (like the room rotation and gate sections)
Different kinds of generation methods on different floors

Looking Ahead

I'm feeling good about February. Aside from some games coming out that are going to eat a lot of my free time, I've got a better handle on my workflow and I have more experience with the tools now. I've even figured out a way around balancing issues for this month (spoiler: no battles). There'll be some new challenges and I'm taking my time this month and will be using today and tomorrow to plan everything out so I don't have to cut as much. Tuesday will see the start of a new game though, and the theme for this month will be "Romance."