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Game Design

Devramble #4

A few words about the beta (sample) cart.

There's a sample version marked 75% complete for Granhistoria out there. Given that they were able to fix a lot of issues in the March 16th-June 30th window between this beta and release, maybe with just another few months in the oven the game could be remembered in a better light today?

The list of differences between these versions is gigantic, from small to large fixes and alterations so I won't be covering all that here...

Among its useful debug functions are:
  • 1) A sound test menu for music and SFX
  • 2) Cycle through all monster groups by pressing R in combat
  • 3) Cycle through all maps with L button

I was able to figure out how to access 1) and 2) in the retail version, which was helpful in ripping all the exact final sound files and quick access to ripping any monster sprites I needed, given the changes to monster placement this remake will be undergoing. The beta also had a bunch of unused palette swaps of monsters, which will be helpful in having more sprites to populate the new dungeons I'm making.

While many character sprites were still unfinished and lacking final details, one particular sprite was completely redone for the release: the eeevil 'Black Child' underlings:

The one on the left is the beta sprite.

Music... remade!

I wanted to include a comparison of the transformation Motoaki Takenouchi's music has undergone in this remake. I wrote an earlier post with more details about the soundtrack's... merits and all, but here's a sample of how these changes actually compare. On my end this has been done by simply changing SPC playback options with SPC700 player, but what a difference it makes!

Youtube: Granhistoria OST/Manamigal
Link to Migal/Juzaria track on Youtube. This is pretty much how the original SNES music sounded like.

Youtube: Remake - Migal
From this remake: basically just with slightly updated sampling quality and removed echo effect.

Youtube: Granhistoria OST/Garamania
The Galmania music from the original.

Youtube: Remake - Palace
From this remake: the drums especially sound much sharper, and strings won't get lost in the muddy backing as before either.

Youtube: Remake - Unused Ending
The sole unused track found through beta's sound test menu. It's unusually upbeat to suit the tone of the game proper. I'm having hard time thinking whether there's ever a proper place to use it or not...

Link to full original OST on Youtube

Game Design

Devramble #3

A cache of concept art appears!

Two Japanese guidebooks were released for Granhistoria. They both have the standard walkthroughs and charts for items and spells etc, but the other contains a nice concept art section. There are a few large character portraits, monster sketches, some strange early general designs, and sketches for different npc clothing for all the regions.

The bandit boss Gainastar you'll meet early in the demo.

The monster and character drawings are nice but nothing special. A drawing of the "Geo Dragon" looks much better than what became of its awkward boss sprite. The early general designs feature Lou prominently in most of them, and have a lot of curious stuff, like big war machines, a castle standing on top of a moving two-headed turtle (?) and airplanes (!). This stuff didn't make it to the final product, and kinda like the game's style in general, influences by Miyazaki's early movies Nausicaa and Laputa are apparent.

This guy guards a lonely mountain as well as any dragon would.

The castle has Galmania's flag/logo up there, though the structure itself is in style of what Ashina Kingdom's architecture ended looking like.

I really like the drawings showcasing a variety of npc clothing. The final game featured only one bland set of sprites for all the townsfolk. These sketches show they had plans to add more variety and individuality to the different regions' styles to separate them between each other. The sketches are well detailed, and it's a shame they never made it into the game. The designs look and feel really well established and fitting, so at some point I'm going to have to think about including them in this project.

I'll be putting scans of the other concept art up on the game's 'Media' page eventually. Cheers :)

Game Design

Devramble #2

I wanted to talk a little about the game's music today.

There's no mistaking that Motoaki Takenouchi is a talented composer and a great musician, but this soundtrack arguably isn't an example of his best work. It can be argued that the divisive features of this score - the funky influences evident in the battle music and others, the asian folk style established in parts of the soundtrack juxtaposed against ear-piercing synths, beeps and boops, work as setting an intriguing atmosphere but fail as concerns the whole game experience. This snippet from an interview is very revealing of how the composition process had went for him:

Q: Were your experiences on ... Granhistoria more positive?

MT: ... For Granhistoria, I was offered the opportunity to use folk music, but to assemble those kinds of sounds, you had to start by buying the instruments. What’s more, the music programmer just didn’t do his job, so none of those sounds are in the game at all. Working with the drivers was a pain, as the default sounds were awful, and we had to do workarounds even to fix issues with pitch.

On top of all that, the development company fell into unprofitability partway through development, and I hadn’t been paid up-front. All of those circumstances together made it difficult for me to work up the motivation to compose, and it’s really unfortunate that the game became a title that I don’t like to be associated with.

It's unfortunate, isn't it? In all honesty, the soundtrack did became, due to these problems and with its shortcomings, an interesting one to work with. For example due to its diversity of styles the early folk-influenced pieces give way to funk and industrial influences little by little, as the game's story grows more hopeless and desperate in conjuction with the gradual emergence of its antagonist(s). I can certainly appreciate this aspect of subtle storytelling.

The soundtrack as a whole: highlights... and missteps.

Granhistoria had the strangest sort of battle music... the short multi-layered funk tunes that are either ear-grating or captivating depending on one's mood. There are two tracks representing grief and loss heard early on, simple compositions both, but worthy of note. Moreover, the current Ashina Palace music (it's used at Galmania in the original) perfectly represents the ambiguity of the setting and characters supposedly working for the Kingdom you're trying to save from ruin. Later, there's the great folk dance of Migal and Juzaria. And finally, after enduring an ear-piercing awfulness (...) of the final dungeon, the powerful final boss music feels composed out of raw force. Then, a chilling ending piece conjures an ethereal reminiscence as the game's bittersweet, ambigious ending(s) unfold.

Even with its rare highlights worth all the praise in my opinion, I don't love the score. There's roughly 20 pieces plus a few snippets for inn/level up SFX and such, not enough for a JRPG of this scale. It's difficult to make its lack of pieces not sound monotonous after a while, and compared to something like FF6/Chrono Trigger which go to great lengths in developing and supporting their ensemble casts fantastically through inspiring and diverse music, Granhistoria's music is less subtle, focusing on mood and location. There's no individual character themes here for example, which is a shame.

In the end, all I could do was to insert the music without its disgusting echo effect, paying close attention to fading between scenes when applicable, and hope for the best, really. I was able to add to some scenes and locations by changing some pieces around... I'm constantly looking for ways to either add or remove music should the occasion ask for it.

In conclusion, it's fair to say even though there were serious problems with the inception of this game's ambivalent score, Motoaki Takenouchi deserves credit and acclaim for persisting and creating some enchanting music, and his unique music provides a good atmosphere for this unusual game overall.

Source for interview



We're celebrating Finland's 100th Year of Independence here today, and this ceremonial day is a fine one to release a demo for this remake. It's up on the downloads page right now, so go grab it!

Many small and large issues are still worked on, but as a whole it should be a nice introduction to this neglected game. The first time any part of this game sees an English release in any form, anyway :)

Game Design

Devramble #1 - 01/12/17

Ahoy! A prototype with about 2 hours playtime for this remake has been sighted, and it'll be up on Dec 6th! I couldn't exactly make it for Granhistoria's 22th anniversary release this June, but being a bit late will have to do. (This has been more or less in the works for 1½ years at this point.)

Ripping animations... just one part of the package.

Everything is pretty much all set to go, except one or two more spells I'll still try to include over the weekend. Ripping animations is stale work at heart and any mistakes in sequencing them are doubly horrible to correct. My (definitely not professional) process goes something like this:

1) Have one of your characters use a spell with the desired animation in battle.
2) Screenshot/advance frame combined to rip a 'rough' sequence of the whole thing. Many animations contain elements that run faster than 1 change per each frame... slow-mode emulation is helpful in figuring out the exact sequence.
3) With vSNES, ripping the individual animation sprites is no problem.
4) Chaotic improvisation occurs. Taking those screenshot files, I make a single spritesheet including layers of obscure numbers to remind myself of timing changes, x-y placement, pauses, repeated frames... until nothing stands between putting the results (fully culled of backgrounds/unnecessary elements) in a Ace-specified .png, finally.
5) The editor is for fine tuning. It's also here a kind of desperation will sink in, having figured out you'd need new frames here and there for the whole thing to work, or in-between playtesting the animation in-game, to notice it doesn't really work the way you figured it would. At all.
6) Hey, remember to rip sound effects as well! And curse the fact they might be pain to fit in the animation the way you desired.
7) To be frank, I'm happy with the way my ripped animations have turned out so far. (Just never use Freeze, will you?)

What is this remake for?

Some people, finding themselves in a situation of having to be an outspoken advocate of someone else's game or project, would find it to be a revolting task. To me, when looking at any piece of 'art' - an artifact of the past - as is, its merits become completely seperate to any of its circumstances. Here and now, for me, it's none about showcasing my own abilities as a game-maker than it's about praising what the original game's makers got right. In this creative process I want to distance myself as being any author or originator of ideas, rather, I think myself as one who simply and luckily has the means to substantiate the depth that is already there - certainly having once existed, even if briefly, in minds of the original content creators but not present in the final work for one reason or the other.

Certainly this game - while I wait for cease-and-desist anyway - merits some introspection. What about its relation to the 2010 Radiant Historia (more on that later)? Disavowal of its score by the music composer (more on that later)? Its designs having uncanny relatability to the fantastic Japanese movie Wings of Honneamise (more on that later)? It's certainly been mocked plenty around the net and those discussions are always fun to browse, and don't get me wrong the game does deserve a healthy dose of "what were they really thinking with this and this!"!

But its shortcomings paint an interesting picture. A lack of side-quests or activities? The result: emphasis on linear gameplay makes the looming end of the world a more poignant fact. Pathetic lack of sprite variety for town npcs? The result: important characters always stand out from the crowd. Game events spoiled to you via the Chronicle system? The result: when unexpected things do happen, the effect and shock is much more pronounced.

The way the Chronicle works in Granhistoria is something you don't often see in games. Cause who'd want their epic RPG adventure be 'spoiled' from the get-go, right? With this system intertwined with its core story, the possibilities of reworking this game in particular has proved more interesting, not to mention more useful, than say something like the trendy upcoming FF7 remake. Which from my point of view is a completely useless affair - let's say, given that since they're willing to put such effort on a remake project at all, why not work on something wonderfully charming and less established with potential, like Treasure of Rudras or Romancing Saga 3 instead?

I think I've already gone way over what this devblog entry was gonna be about... so cheers and gday to one and all!
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