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Progress Report

500 hours to go...

Or so i estimate is probably left to do before i can finally release the first 2 chapters of this never ending project.

It feels like enough hours to still be daunting, but in perspective after the thousands of hours that have already gone into this project, it's also the light at the end of the tunnel. Will i manage to get this done before the end of 2015? I hope so. I don't know so ... but i'm close enough now that it's certainly possible.

I'm finally satisfied with the game-play foundation ... which has taken a lot of tinkering over the years. Part of the complication with releasing this in parts, is what happens if i want to go back and make a significant system side change later that wrecks the save file for those who have already started playing. I hope to avoid that.

I've got a choice system in the game which adds to variables depending on the player response, and then will start to make significant storyline branches later on depending on the values, so it's very important to cement those. I went with 4, which should be more than enough for combinations.

I've also got plans from Chapter 4 onward to implement a 'home town', where the player can recruit characters to live in the town. Therefore i need to plan ahead a bit in terms of putting these named characters in the game world ahead of that point in development. I've added variables for every one of them so that i can make branches later.

I also want there to be some non linearity involved, although the plot of the game is pretty linear ... i want the world itself to be properly filled out. I want there to be changes to places the player has already been to, and allow the player to revisit them. Side dungeons, town characters, etc, etc. So i've opted to just give the player open warp to previously visited areas right from the start. If there's a story sequence that would make it unreasonable to allow warping i can just temporarily disable it for that sequence. Given the linearity of the plot, it will always make some kind of not-sense to have warping, but i imagine people are not likely to complain about the feature. It's well worth having.

With all the work on the foundation in good shape, it's really the graphics more than anything that are the time consumer now...

Honestly, i have struggled for years with learning how to make the game look GOOD. It never came easy for me. This game looked like **** once upon a time. ... and i just can't put out a product i am not proud of. Inevitably, there will be the odd clash here or there that i won't have actively noticed. Or a design choice that will irk someone ... and i'm sure to have more lightbulb moments along the way, or take good advice to further polish this aspect. Thankfully, this CAN be pretty easily updated after release without breaking the save file.

I'm reasonably happy with the visual presentation ... FINALLY. Although it is taking a heck of a lot of work. The backgrounds are typically painfully slow to create, although worth it. I've also opted to work around the tileset and color limits by using objects as my tileset graphics in large part. Every map has a basic tileset that i've edited together to simplify things some, but vastly, it is an ever growing array of objects. Hundreds of different kinds of walls, dozens of floors, plants, paintings, lights, trees, etc, etc. So even when i'm doing a more tileset based map (by design interior locations are tileset based and exterior are renders), it still takes a LONG time.

Originality is important too. I want to keep away mostly from the standard rips that everyone has seen a dozen times before ... although i'm giving myself some slack on that. Some flowers, a nice looking piano, a bookshelf. Selective stuff that can fit in. I can replace them later if need be. In all, Google images is my friend. OK, not entirely as though i drew everything by hand, but a brick wall texture i will consider to be freeware. If it's not, i'm giving credit.

I guess really, it comes down to me being satisfied. In the bigger scope, the project has just gotten so massive over the years that it feels impossible to finish. That's where my choice to go episodic came in. I can buckle down on these first two chapters and have them out with another 500 or so hours work. That's something real. About 10 hours of play ... ish. And with the foundation in place, the rest will come quicker, and it will be easier to be motivated. So things will keep rolling along.

Progress Report

Re-Layer

I've spent most of my time lately going back through the database, both to fix some things that have been long overdue and to update some things.

One of those 'should have done it long ago' things was the sounds. There's a pretty solid database of free sounds at freesound.org and so i combed through it to give all the attacks and basic battle sounds a huge upgrade over the RTP stock. No doubt that will make the game experience much better, and i could not have really released the thing otherwise.

Similarly, i will need to finish replacing as much of the RTP monster set as i can. I spent a few days going through Charas and downloaded a few hundred ones i liked with a focus on either originals or ones without a real source definition. There's certain stuff that just shouldn't be used for professional reasons like anything Final Fantasy. But there's some good designs form obscure enough sources, and google itself can provide additional free sources.

Also, upon combing through the items tab today i realized that it is far overdue of me to just scrap the whole built in gear system. The stat and ability growth for characters in my game is nearly completely done through the use of customization instead of the level curve. Having standard armor sets seems useless as a result. Instead, i figure to devote the gear slots to accessories. There are 5 total in RM2K3, and the decision for me to make right this moment is should i devote all 5 to accessories or keep one or two for customizing the basic 4 of ATT, DEF, INT, SPD. I'm not sure yet.

On an aside, i just saw the "how is this game 400mb? did you accidentally include an episode of Friends in the exe package?" quote on the website banner. Well, MP3's really do add up. MIDI doesn't cut it. :)

Dunno, once i am satisfied with the database tabs in the next little while i will move on to really polishing the game itself. That will take some time but not too long, given how much is already in place. My goal remains to release Chapter 1 and 2 on their own as a starting point so that i can release something this year. As you will notice from how old this project page is, it is long overdue.

There is the choice of should i release each subsequent chapter as a stand alone download, but i have decided not to do that. It offers me much greater freedom with the project as a whole and simplifies a whole bunch of other stuff to just keep it as a single download. That does mean people will need to redownload the whole thing when each future chapter is released, but i think... in today's day and age... a few hundred megs is not really a burden to any ones bandwidth.

Game Design

Thoughts on 8-bit Color depth

Self motivation is always a bit of a constant inner struggle while i plod along with this project. The old phrase 'best game ever' is generally not something to aspire to, if only because the claim itself doesn't work. Still, i expect of myself a certain level of overall quality that i cannot compromise on. Certainly this game would have been finished by now if i wasn't constantly asking the question, 'how can i make this better'?

There is an abundance of content on this site. So much so that it is almost i think, even too much to expect to stand out. No, i think it would be a mistake for me to compare my work to others directly in an apples to oranges kind of way. Rather, i want to ask myself, 'Am i satisfied'?

Well, 8-bit color depth is something that always has irked me a little about my chosen platform. Finding ways of maximizing the colors is one part of the graphical presentation i must do my best with. I always admired the Saga series for its world immersion, and graphically, the point at which i am satisfied is when i feel that my game can be looked at also as an artistic experience.

So long as i hold on to Rm2k3, so far as i know, there are no 24-bit options. But what i do have is a virtually limitless array of content storage. The 256 color limit is per map and per layer.

So i did at first apply this to mixing pre-rendered backgrounds and chipsets. A bryce floor texture is less repetitive and works on its own 256 palette. It also takes some strain off the map chipset since i can effectively erase the floor tiles. Adding a transparent glow through pictures on lights or for any shading purposes is also its own layer. Each picture is its own. To the best of my knowledge, there is no way for the picture to be beneath the chip set graphics and character graphics, and this presents a very real limitation.

Ultimately, i have come to that point once again, where a very time consuming task simply has to be done because i don't want to settle for less. That is simply, to turn the vast majority of my entire chip set graphics into object files. Object files are each on their own 256 color palette, and so in theory, each and every tile in the game could be its own 256 colors. Of course, this isn't entirely necessary, but it does mean that i could display thousands of colors on each and every 20 x 15 map (which the vast majority of my currently 1000+ maps are).

I figured that since objects are events, i would have to leave a few things on the chip set, like tables and chairs. If i want to place a beer bottle object on a table, i cannot have two different events graphics on the same tile unless i move one event on top of the other during map transitions, which ... maybe is just taking it a little to far. But for most anything else, like bookshelves and walls or carpets when they don't have something on them, or lights and shrubs and plants and barrels and just about anything else, they can be object events.

Better yet, any of the objects can be used freely on any map, like having one giant chip set file instead of being restricted to a map specific tile set.

I suppose again, if one wanted to make a custom graphic of the table or the wall with every imaginable combination of objects pre-placed onto it (or use pictures instead of objects), then there would be almost no further need for the chip set whatsoever, except for animation tiles. I have decided not to go quite that far. This simply because for a marginal chip set, 256 colors still goes a long way, and i can change them with every 20 x 15 map.

Progress Report

...and i am back

First off, this project is not dead. The only way this game does not eventually see release is if i die before i finish it. When that day comes, i really don't know. Life keeps taking twists and turns. I had meant to have the first 2 chapters up here last spring/summer, but then i hopped into my car and eloped across the continent to meet a girl, who i am going to marry.

Sadly my game did not come along for the ride. In hindsight i really ought to have brought it but at the time i left, i did not think there would have been time... and i didn't think i would be gone for so long either.

So here i am. I THINK, or at least i hope that i will have ample time over the next few months to really grind out some progress, being as i am not working currently. I do understand that it is wise for me to just release the first two chapters and then add a chapter at a time as they are finished. This should, if all goes well, get the first 10 hours of the game to you all by summer.

Part of me knows this game could have been finished some years ago, but it has gone through so many evolution's over the years. It will be done when it is ready. I suppose if there is just one thing to know, it is that this game WILL be finished as long as i am alive to finish it. This is most certainly one of those projects that has expanded to such a ridiculous size that you could expect it would die, like many others before it that just got too big. I will finish it though.

Progress Report

Progress Report

It has been one week since my last update, so i thought it time to post another.

I wrote earlier that i thought there was maybe 1,000 hours of work left to do in the game as a whole, but i badly under-estimated that number. It is likely closer to 3,000 hours. In any case, i am committed that the episodic release format is the only way this story will ever be completed. For Chapters 1 and 2 i believe another 200 hours work should do it.

My immediate goal is to have the graphics design largely completed in time for the Olympics. Given that i am now re-modeling the last area of Chapter 2, this should easily be met.

During the Olympics, i will be glued to the TV to watch them constantly as i always do, but fortunately i have 3 monitors. This means that production on the game will continue on one screen while i watch the Olympics on the other. It's a good multi-tasking approach which has always served me well. Currently i am catching up on my favorite radio program while working on the game.

As i am preparing this for a release, i'll need to comb through the database and fix up all the small things that i've been 'leaving till later', so this will easily be accomplished during the Olympics. It's a small task, maybe 20 hours worth and easily suited to the situation.

I've also got a couple areas i want to fix up graphically, but nothing hugely complex. I also need to add a couple cut-scenes, most especially in chapter 2 to glue everything together properly. There's a lot of characters and it't important i keep track of them so that no one is forgotten for extended periods, or their locations at crucial times unexplained. I may want to flesh out relationships a bit too, we'll see. All small things adding up to i'm guessing about 50 hours work.

So there's 70 hours there, and largely i feel i can accomplish this during the Olympics. That way i can go into final testing afterward. I might at some point feel compelled to add a new area or something, but in general, that last leg isn't too complicated. It's still 10 hours of game time though and i'm aiming to play through it 3 times, but maybe 2 will do, it depends. The final test through will be off the game disk i create. A couple weeks should do it, so for now i think Mid-March is pretty realistic.

My body might fight me pretty hard trying to adjust to Russia time though, and if that's the case, i'll be zombie brain and things will slide back to late March. I'll keep you posted.

Progress Report

Release Plan

I'm determined!
I want this game released.

So, I'm going to focus on finishing Chapters 1 and 2 and get them out to you as soon as possible. That way, instead of looking at the monstrous task of getting the whole thing finished hopefully ever and then losing heart and getting sidetracked for another few months... i'll take it one very doable chapter at a time. I'll look at Chapter 3, and only Chapter 3 and polish it, then update the release.

Chapters 1 and 2 will account for about 10 hours of game-play. They are very close to being ready. What is left to be done and how i intend to approach it is as follows:

#1 - Polish the graphics - Give me another 2 weeks for this.
I'm redesigning a couple areas i'm not happy with, and finishing the last area in particular that has dogged me for years. Also, i've got some creative ideas to modify my chip-sets so that they are more entirely original than current. There will be some trial and error involved, but it should both make things look a little better and eliminate that feeling of seeing a chip-set you've seen in a dozen other games.

#2 - The Database - Can be done in a few days
General tightening of the database contents. Also thinking of replacing the RM2K3 wav sounds with the set of a newer maker like VX if they are better, why not upgrade? Also going to replace all the stock monsters in there, and i've been using stock RTP sprites for non-essential characters... so i'm going to go on a charas blitz and make a few dozen townspeople types.

#3 - Play-testing phase - 2 - 3 weeks
Going through the game and snagging all the spelling errors, glitches and whatever else. Making notes in general. Tighten a couple battles. Then make a branch off copy, scrap all the materials not used in Chapters 1 and 2 to make a smaller file size and wrap it up for release, make one final play-test to make sure it works and go.

It's all very close enough to be a realistic goal at this point, so i'll drive hard to get it done. Then you'll all have something to actually play, and i can start taking this one chapter at a time, which means chapters will actually get done.

Progress Report

Episodic release

In the words of an old teacher of mine,
'You have to release this some time, or you'll never release it'.

That is the development story of this game.

So i've been turning that over in my head the last few days,
what do i do with this?

As the years have wore on, the once new and shiny RM2K3 is now the older program to the newer and shinier XP, VX, and Ace makers. Still, the old RM2K3 battle system is perfect for my needs, and no newer maker has updated it. Of course i could create a custom system on a newer maker to replicate what RM2K3 offers... so shouldn't i do that? I could handle the task of transferring the resources over, and the battle formulas too, but unless i could just directly copy and paste the maps and events..., no, if i had to remake all the map designs and events it would take forever.

So i take a step back and look at my game and the RM2K3 platform. It does do generally everything i need to make the game i want, except for three factors.

1) The 320x240 pixel depth
2) The 4:3 frame instead of widescreen (i'm not a fan of stretching).
3) The 8 bit color depth

Thankfully i have resolved #1.
I found a copy of cherry's old Hq2x program and will include it with the game. Many of us have used it in emulating those old PS1 games, and it looks wonderful. The screenshot below is using it.

I am also not overly concerned about #3,
if only because the screenshot below shows how far 256 colors can go. The trick obviously, is to limit the color range per picture. This one has primarily only the greens and yellowy browns in the spectrum to share it, so both color ranges look full. If i added Blue and Red to this screen, the shared load would create a noticeable drop off in quality. Obviously i'd rather have some sort of tool or plug-in or just be using a program with a higher color depth, but i can work with this.

That leaves #2,
Which i have no idea how to work around without stretching. I suppose the individual player can make that decision on their own. If i could, i'd make my game with triple widescreen support, but, if there's no way to modify the original RM2K3, at least none that i know of, i guess i go with it.

So that brings me back to the idea of Episodic release. The more i dig into the scope of this project, i am reminded that i'll never finish it.. and what i mean is, that even if i finish this entire story arc, i've still got more stories to tell in this world that would be entirely separate games. Finishing this particular chunk though (9 chapters at the moment), is doable within a couple years.

I have minor concerns about the episodic release format. One is that i'd like to have a gameplay mechanic where the player makes choices which change variables and branch the story-line later on. With episodic release this becomes problematic because i am always making changes to this. My second concern is more simply that i am always tightening up small things across all chapters and i push forward. Maybe remaking a map, or cleaning up dialogue, or tightening a battle. I suppose neither concern is game-breaking though. I could keep tweaking things forever. Certainly asking a player to re-download 500megs in today's day and age should not be too massive an ask?

The character customization element in my game is extremely deep and i'd like to allow the player to carry their builds over from start to finish. For this reason it makes the most sense for the entire game to remain on a single platform. Still, releasing the game in chunks would make a change to a different maker possible later on with less headache. Certainly it would make it more of an option to consider. Also, giving people something to play would substantially increase interest in this project (or not if everyone hates it, haha).

Probably the benefits of episodic release far outweigh the drawbacks.
So that is what i will do.

Progress Report

I'm not dead...

Perhaps this game is best suited for the category of games that simply got too large to ever see completion... except that this is a story that i must complete before i die.

Then, i have felt over the years that i simply was not ready, not mature enough to write the story well. I also suffered a loss three years ago which crushed my motivation to continue.

The reality is that all of the most challenging work to be done on this game is largely complete. The foundation is all in place and i need only finish it. Maybe now is the time, but i make no promises.

I have a story to tell, and one day i will finish it, if not here, then in a book, but i will finish it.

Progress Report

After a hiatus.

I haven't ever given up on this project ... but i did start it 13 years ago, and this particular game, 9 years ago. It has been one of those projects that just keeps getting bigger and bigger until it eventually reaches a point where it seems impossible to complete. In a kind of comparison, i like to compare it to the Redwall series of novels (if you're aware of them). I could already fill several novels with the ideas i've amassed, and that has always been my eventual goal.

In terms of this game, i have watched the 'retro' style become new again, and seen how the community at large has progressed over years. It has crept into my mind at times that perhaps i have simply taken too long to finish this game.

So i've come to a decision. Releasing it once as a finished product will likely never happen. Instead i will release it in parts. I will use the available tools to clean up the file structure with any partial release so you're not downloading unnecessary data. I will also include the entire game to the current end point with each release. Meaning i will release for example Chapter 1 and 2.. then say the file for Chapter 3 and 4 will also include Chapter 1 and 2. I'd rather do it this way than make them stand alone items. I suppose this might bother some people regarding bandwidth, but with today's technology, i don't think it's very reasonable to get bent out of shape over a couple hundred megs.

This is also for my own benefit... whatever the reaction, having SOMETHING out there rather than nothing will make it easier for me to dedicate my energies to actually finishing this game. It will also be far better for feedback and help. I'll be more than willing to go back and tighten up previously released chapters.

That would be really good, because i've already got the plans laid out for the sequel. @_@

Miscellaneous

Small Details (Looking for ideas)

This is in part a response to a reply on a previous blog that i have removed and replaced with this one.
I delete things often. It keeps things for me, organized. Anyways...

Though i have worked with RPG Maker for over 10 years, this is only my second game. My first was a 95+ game called Eternal Darkness (Released 2002). I submit to the notion that 'i am new to this'. I have a lot to learn. One thing i believe important is 'small details'.

That comes in many forms, but i hope with this website i can find many ideas to use in my game as i progress.
Some examples of what i already have:

- MP3 music rather than MIDI
- Abundant treasure chests
- Full healing after battle (Wild Arms 4 / 5)
- Heavy focus on 20 x 15 maps (though bigger maps occur when they make sense).
- Original Character sprites
- Choices that branch events
- Interaction with inanimate objects (the toilet)
- On screen enemies

I believe these, and some other minor details i have incorporated into my game, make it a better game, but i know there is room for much more. I saw a review for a puzzle game called Zack to the Future on the main page. If i take that series for example, and learn how the coding works, i may find some new ideas. Of course, there are many more games, and many i have not yet played.

So, i will do my own research, but anything that any of you have found in other games which really seemed to add depth, i am interested in reading about. Many of these ideas don't exist in my brain yet. I want to put them there. xD
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