An interview with the creator of Karma Flow - The Prototype

  • Cap_H
  • 09/22/2019 02:47 PM

Hello and welcome!
Featured Game, Featured Dev is a series of interviews on rpgmaker.net. My goals are to further promote RMN's featured games and creative minds behind them!

It's an extraordinary event to get featured two times in a single year. It was also more difficult to come up with more questions for OldPat. The first interview managed to cover essentials and to avoid round 2 being a mere update, I decided to go for a deeper cut. Fortunately, I couldn't choose a better dev for this as OldPat loves to share his creative process. Karma Flow - The Prototype, originally released in Italian and translated to English is a modern noir stealth game, which gives player a free hand in solving its open level. If you're fan of Metal Gear Solid and RPG Maker software, you should be a fan of Karma Flow. You can read more on the game and perhaps even download it here.

Thanks for letting me interview you again. How are you doing?
I'm doing fine, thank you! It's been kind of a very busy period, lately. It has proven to be very stressful sometimes but that's okay as I managed to stay productive and that's a good thing. Everything is moving forward as it should, for now. I really can't complain.

That's good to hear. What is also good? Karma Flow - The Prototype being the game of the month. Did you expect Karma Flow getting featured so long after its release?
Even though I had proposed the game in the featured thread, I honestly didn't expect for it to be chosen. It makes me happy to see people still liking it despite it being an old game! Karma Flow is one of the projects I hold dear the most, and my first game that I released in English. It allowed me to become an active member of RMN and to know all of you!
One day, I'll finish the whole saga of Karma Flow for good. I want to do it by giving all I got in order to release one of my best games to date. But for now, I'm trying to focus my attention and strength to some new projects I've got in store. The aim is to try as many new things as possible.

Let's talk about The Prototype for a while before jumping on newer projects. When did you start working on Karma series and how much did it change between then and Karma Flow's release?
Well, the concept for Karma Flow was born several years ago. It was maybe in 2013/2014.
It all started with this... very ugly drawing I did.
I didn't know who she was. Hence the title of the picture. XD
That was the first version of Karma Flow's protagonist, Florien Kealborn. Everything started from there (she changed quiiiiite a bit, uh?).
After that ugly concept art I began thinking about it and eventually I had a story in mind that I really wanted to tell and I had characters I wanted to give life to. The gameplay was envisioned in a way that could blend well with the game's story and themes. And, as in many other games of mine, the story focused a lot on its characters. Especially on Florien Kealborn and her personal conflicts, her torments.
I wanted to make a noir story which focused heavily on the conflicts and feelings of its characters. As time went on, the story kept on changing. Shaping up to what it is today. And without realizing it, Karma Flow grew on me immensely.
When the Italian community RPG2s held a Short Game Contest in 2015, I wanted to participate with a "Prototype" version of Karma Flow, to see if people would've liked it. It had to be developed in a month and, of course, lots of things had to change and lots of other stuff had to be reconsidered. I worked hard and did my best but I was still scared, because it was toned down quite a bit from its original concept and I couldn't narrate the whole story. Still, it managed to win the competition. I still remember the day I received the results and then jumped out of my chair like: "Yeah! They liked it! They did!" I was really stupidly happy. It was great to see people liking Karma Flow's story and settings!
So yeah, The Prototype has only a fraction of the whole story that I had in mind. Of course, it still has a beginning, an end and a "small conflict" that gets resolved, but the "real threat" is still there. Florien Kealborn's story isn't over.
As for the gameplay, I had to cut a lot of the things I wanted to implement and do some compromises here and there. Still, I managed to do most and I was quite happy with the result! Karma Flow is a stealth game. I like the genre a lot so I had tons of fun working on its system! I wanted to leave players with a certain degree of freedom of action. Hence why I made the game's missions as open as possible. It's not just: "Here's the route to point A." It's more along the lines of: "Here's point A. As for how to get there you decide. Find your own route, experiment. It's all on you."
And then in 2016 I translated the game, added some small improvements here and there (GameJolt integration, some new animations thanks to my pal HROT, and a new difficulty setting) and released it on RMN.

Are the stealth system and the narrative the main reason people should play Karma Flow - The Prototype? . What are some of the features you're most proud of?

Yeah, I think the story and its characters are the main reason why one should play Karma Flow.
It's a story-driven game. It focuses a lot on the progression of its story and makes it the main focus of the whole experience.
So I'm mostly proud about the story, the characters and the setting. I've managed to, somehow, give those a life of their own. They can breathe on their own. It's almost as if they don't need me anymore!
But that aside, people who like stealth games might also like this one!
In fact, I was also kinda proud about the whole stealth system I've managed to implement. To tell you the truth, RPG Maker wasn't the tool I imagined I would've used for something like Karma Flow. But I tried making the prototype with RPG Maker 2k3 nonetheless, which is a tool I know like the palm of my hand. The results, while not 100% what I hoped for, satisfied me a lot the moment I managed to have a working gameplay.
When I first started developing Karma Flow, I began by making the second mission of the game, "The Flow of Karma", because it contained all of the game's main features. A relatively big map with enemies scouting the area and a moving target with his own "pathfinding", moving from one place to another according to the time of day. Trying to optimize all of the things I had in mind was a pain. But when the level reached a playable state I was really happy. Everything worked! The stealth system was almost ready. I was proud of what I did, because it was something new for me. I never tried making a system like that one before.

Then I had fun implementing Florien's binoculars, the game's "lifesaving" gadgets that allow you to scout the area, the game's map, the information you can gather around and then... Spike the dog! That dog in the second mission that follows the target's trail. I had fun coming up with that one as well.
The fun thing about that period of time, during development, is that I had basically created a small, personal "sandbox" where I could test all sort of features. Land mines? Let's try those! Where could the target go during the day? How could the player strike here? And here? Let's try implementing explosive barrels or maybe mirrors that could make bullets ricochet et cetera, et cetera. It was fun!
And then I tried playing the level, seeing if there were unintended methods that could be used in order to kill the main target, and I had fun finding unexpected ways to end the mission. Most had to be fixed, of course, but ;).
Karma Flow was my first real "getting out of the comfort zone" project. And the fact that I managed to finish the game is indeed something that makes me proud.

What about the look and the sound of Karma Flow. How did you approach these?
When thinking about how Karma Flow should've looked, I drew a lot of inspiration from noir movies, even cyberpunk-ish ones like the evergreen Blade Runner or animated movies like Ghost in the Shell, which was probably my main inspiration together with other animes like Cowboy Bebop and City Hunter. I drew lots of inspiration from those kind of animated movies and animes from the 80s/90s when thinking about the colors and the whole aesthetic and artstyle. I love those kind of works and I wanted Karma Flow to look like the things I love.
As for its setting, I wanted to make a city full of shades. Some kind of corrupted heaven. A city that wears a mask, a classic noir movie setting, basically.
Karma Flow is a game that is full of contrasts and ambiguity. That's true not only in its story but also in its setting. As morality itself is blurred, I wanted to make it so that everything else was too. Rolsara, the city where the game takes place, is facing an economical crisis and is rotten to the core, but its higher sectors are beautiful, crowded, full of life and full of neon lights everywhere. It's the portrait of a rich city. A lively mess.
The Prototype is almost completely set in Dog Refuge, though, which is the poorest sector of Rolsara. A dangerous and rotten place, full of criminals. In contrast to all of this, the place has the Parisio hotel and the Red Whale bar, both quiet and extremely classy places. This was a choice I had to do because of time constraints. I thought I wouldn't be able to render a city full of neon lights in such a short time span, so Dog Refuge ended up being the only playable area of the city.
Despite not overdoing things with neon lights, I worked a bit with light effects and all in order to give Karma Flow the soul and atmosphere it was supposed to have.
As for the game's music, I needed it to be faithful to the atmosphere I had in mind. I wanted it to be a mix of noir, jazz and electronica. Something that would remind others of old gangster movies. When choosing the theme for when the player is found by an enemy, I wanted something that would remind others of Lupin getting chased by the Interpol, or Spike from Cowboy Bebop chasing a criminal with his Swordfish II. The alert theme changes when the Karma Patrol becomes the main antagonist, though. It becomes more distorted and twisted. The game features tracks of all sort, all thoughtfully chosen for each scene.

Karma Flow - The Prototype

Are you still working on Karma Flow 2 - Steel skin? How has been that going?
During the time that has passed between our last interview and now, I have been working on a new script for Karma Flow which is almost complete by now. That's because I was thinking about making a "definitive version" of Karma Flow, containing all of its original plot.

As I said before, Karma Flow was originally conceived as one single game and most of the story that I told in The Prototype had to suffer because of time constraints. Also, quite some time passed since the release of the original and I fear people might have forgotten about stuff or maybe don't want to play or replay the first one before getting into its sequel and playing the first one was basically essential in order to understand the plot and the Karma system.
Hence why, I'm thinking about working on a big game containing the whole, refined, story. As soon as the screenwriting is finished and the whole thing has been thoroughly planned out I'll tell you more about it.
Of course the time spent on Karma Flow 2 - Steel Skin will not be for nothing. All of the things that I did up until now will be ported into the "definitive game", like its improved gameplay system, cutscenes and all. Karma Flow 2's plot will still be there, just better refined and merged with the plot of the first one.
I want this ultimate version of Karma Flow to be one hell of an experience, made with proper care and love. I want this to be one of my best games.

You recently announced AIKA - The Fragile Dance of the Broken Soul. What is that game about?
Aika is a short Rhythm Game with Visual Novel-like segments that narrates the story, that I started developing for the Theme Roulette 2 event. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned and I couldn't manage to release the game in time for the deadline. However, I decided to keep working on it.
The game's plot is about Aika Shizumi, a member of the Kage unit, a group of "forgotten shadows," and it focuses on her quest for vengeance after her mother got killed and her village got burned to the ground by samurai forces of the Sensho Clan. She uses her skills as an artist and her dance to become one of the deadliest assassin of the Kage unit. Hence why she follows a "rhythm" of her own when she fights. That's the meat of the gameplay, the duels between Aika and the enemy.
It's a short game, so I can't tell much about the story. Even the tiniest detail could be a huge spoiler.
It is set in feudal Japan so I wanted the story to feel as much "Japanese" as possible. So it's a cold and dark Japanese tale. That's kind of a challenge, especially because I'm working with a setting I've never worked before. But that was my goal, to test and experiment with new stuff. This is my first Rhythm game, my first Visual Novel, my first RPG Maker MV game and my first HD game. I wanted to change some things in the way I usually work and in the way I usually do things. It's not that much of a big leap, but a little step in another direction.
Basically, with this experiment, I'm trying to test some stuff out that will, hopefully, make me grow as a developer and that will help me with future projects as well.

Why did you decide to use RPG Maker MV for the project? How would you rate it in comparison to RPG Maker Vx Ace?
There was a number of reasons as to why I decided to go for that tool. The first one being its programming language. I had some experience with Javascript so learning how to script stuff for MV was kinda easy. Also, I worked on some projects made with MV lately, so I managed to get some experience from it. Changing the game's resolution also proved to be easy. I still need to know how responsive it is for each platform. And yes, another reason is its portability. I still don't know if I'll ever release Aika for other platforms than PC, but having that possibility is certainly something! A rhythm or visual novel game on a mobile phone or tablet fits kinda nicely after all. But we'll see.
There are some things I don't like about MV, like its tile size. Fortunately I don't need tiles for Aika anyway.
I think it's too early for me to decide whether I like VX Ace or MV more. I'm still getting used to MV. Although in the end they're not all that different from each other. The biggest differences has to be the scripting language, which is way better in MV in my opinion. And yeah, the tile size. And that's a point for VX Ace.
My aim is also to try different tools and make a jump from RPG Maker to something else, some day. I worked a bit with Unity back in the days. That's a tool I would like to go back to. But before doing that, I would like to know how much I can still "squeeze" out of RPG Maker, without overdoing it. After all, the main goal here is to make games. If RPG Maker is still good enough for what I wanna do, then I'll use it.

You mentioned previous MV projects. Do you mean Timothy series? How do you distribute your time among so many projects?
Yeah, I worked a bit on Timothy and with Kibou Entertainment. But the situation slowly went into realms I didn't agree with and there were some issues in the way the team was handled so I decided to quit the team some time ago.
Anyway, my time is still kinda limited because of work and real life stuff, I also have some commissions I have to take care of. Still, I usually manage to handle all of that stuff, somehow, more or less. I'm trying to improve on that too, in order to become better at handling many tasks at once. I usually make games alone and that is really time consuming and sometimes it's really difficult to keep up with the amount of work that needs to be done. Sometimes I just sit there thinking okay, what do I do next? Artworks? I could use the portraits, but the system needs to be polished too, but the script has problems here and there, but the dialogues, the AAAH!
Although I've found some really cool people that are willing to help me with Aika. Zorga, for instance, will help me with the game's backgrounds! He's doing a really great job thus far. Here's a little screenshot from Aika, showing both my work and Zorga's.
And of course, Dragnfly is always there for me, for proofreading and for sharing ideas. The English in my games would be crap without him.
And it's always nice to have a community like RMN where I can hang out. Without a community where I can talk to people about game making, where I can ask for help, where I can gain motivation... I dunno, I feel I would just give up, sometimes. Or at least, I would never try my best to do even better every time I can. Having a community, people as passionate as you, is extremely important.
The thing that helps me to stay focused on a project is to never look at the whole stairway. When developing a game, especially when you're alone, it's always good to do things one step at a time. Hence why I set myself some small goals that, little by little, without me realizing, will result in a finished product. Reaching the stairway by looking at the single steps. Everytime I happen to look at the whole stairway by mistake, my motivation drops immensely. That's... something I'm trying to avoid.

Karma Flow - The Prototype

Are your fans angry, that you're not entirely focused on releasing Karma Flow 2?
God, I hope not! If that's the case, I'm going to say that I'm extremely sorry for the delay! I would love to see Karma Flow marked complete and released too. Hang in there, it will be worth it!

If I understand you correctly, you plan for Karma Flow (as talked about previously, not The Prototype) to be the ultimate game in the series. Or is there any chance of further expanding the game's universe?
There's a chance, yeah.
I've been thinking about possible new chapters or spin-offs. I can't help it, I keep imagining my characters in tons of different situations.
I was, for instance, thinking about a spin-off starring Marty Rivers. He was the "comic relief" character of Karma Flow, the arms dealer from Machinegun Kingdom. Lots of people liked him a lot. Me too after seeing him in action! I was thinking about a "Wolf of Wall Street" kind of story for him.
I was also thinking about some kind of short game that would introduce Stephanie, the co-protagonist of Karma Flow(the redhead in my avatar). I can't wait to give some screen time to her as well.
But the truth is that for now I'm trying to make as many different kind of games as possible and the main Karma Flow should be the priority.
So neither of these chapters are going to be developed, for now.

Is Karma Flow your dream project? If not, what would be it?
Karma Flow is one of my dream projects and probably my main one at the moment, the one I care about the most.
I got another one in mind as well, actually.
What I would like to accomplish, someday, is to create the perfect blend of both gameplay and narrative in order to create an unique experience for the player. It's one of those highly ambitious dream projects. I've been shaping something of that sort in my head but there are still some things that do not work and others that are... well beyond my current level as a developer. Maybe one day, as I keep on improving, I'll be able to make that unique project. But that's hard to say. Kind of useless to talk about this one now so...
There's also another project I would like to finish someday. I've never talked about it in communities outside of Italian ones. It's Theory of Emancipation. It was supposed to be an action survival RPG made with RPG Maker 2003. The main goal of the game was to survive in a hostile environment full of demons that you could capture and use in battle and explore a world full of choices to be made. A very complex and harsh game. There are still some old trailers, original music and gameplay video around.
I've been working on its spin-off, Children of Chaos, for one of the Season Events of RMN. And that one had a working Active Battle System with capturing demons at all. I'm waiting for the right moment, maybe a certain event, to finish it and release it.

Any good games you played recently? Or any other media you would recommend to our readers?
Unfortunately, I almost never had the time to play anything recently.
I played some hours of Theia when it was first released in our Italian community back in 2015 and, guys, believe me, that is one hell of a game. You'll probably have a hard time finding a RPG made with RPG Maker 2003 that is as epic and well-crafted as that one. Do play it! And consider it for The Misaos too.
It's a worthy game, made with tons of love.
And same thing goes for Villnoire. I had the chance to see that game in action and I already liked what I saw. I hope I'll have the chance to play that one too eventually. It amazes me to see another big RPG coming out this year. We've had two in a row. What a time to be alive, huh?
There are also a lot of other games that I played or that I'm following that I think deserve tons of attention.
Zorga's short games need to be played for the gorgeous art in them and the enjoyable writing alone (I enjoyed the characters and their dialogues in Connection: Fairy Birthbloom a lot).
I also remember Frogge & Team's 48-hours game, Memories of a Forgotten Home. That one was a simple but very well crafted experience. I remember liking the way it looked, a lot.
And then there's Steamed Hams, but it's RPG Maker 2003! made by the punniest man alive, LordBlueRouge! That's quite an interesting, (and fun!) tech demo.
The site is full, FULL of amazing games. And FULL of amazing games that came out just this year.

Karma Flow - The Prototype

What is your advice for less experienced devs, who are struggling to finish their first big project?
Well, if the first project is a "big" one then we already have a problem right there.
The advice I would give is to make short games and focus on simple, but refined, gameplay mechanics and on simple, but interesting, stories.
Stick with short games for starters. A lot of people think that a good game is the one that lasts 30+ hours and it's an epic adventure across thousands of different locations.
A short experience can still be a significant one. There's a chance that your game would actually benefit from staying short. Also, we live in an era were people are always rushing. Everything goes faster than it did before. Having a short and to the point experience might not be a bad idea in this day and age.
And do not underestimate the task that you need to do, even a short game will require some time and some serious dedication in order to be finished. And, as a less experienced devs, you want to improve as much as you can by releasing as many games as you can instead of getting stuck in a big one for years, and years, and years to come.
Find a story that is worth telling. Strip everything that looks like filler, just leave the "main theme" intact, the thing that will make the experience worthwhile, and think about one good gameplay mechanic. With just that much, you'll make a good game worthy of recognition.
And if you fail... whatever, at least you failed with a small project and not after spending years on a big one. You will gain greater experience as a dev from finished products even if they are a failure (especially if they are, actually), so just... stick with short games. Keep the scope simple, try your best to polish them and release them.
If you did a good job, after a certain amount of short games done, look back and you will see that you've actually improved.
Also, for both short and big projects, the advice would be to never, ever look at the "stairway". One step at a time, as I said before.

What an advice! That's it. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and taking time to answer my questions. Good luck making Karma Flow the game you want it to be.


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OrudoPatto, kisama!
Thank you for giving me another chance to talk about my games and about game making in general, Cap.^^

Keep up the good work!

(We wrote a lot!)

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