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So. It's been a while.

  • BadLuck
  • 10/05/2015 05:31 AM
I've been asked this before by several people, so I thought I'd explain things. This is the story of how I got here. I'll make another post about the Ara Fell remake another time. This isn't about the remake. This is about why I'm remaking it.

Fair warning. It's a little sentimental.

Ten years ago (it seems crazy to even type that), I made Ara Fell. It was my third game, after Tarion Star and some unnamed but serious RPG Maker 95 project, and the first one that was any good. Ara Fell was a huge, complicated project, and far too ambitious for what I was capable of at the time. More than a few people warned me of this, but I enjoyed the challenge, and decided to just go with my first instinct, and let the chips fall where they may. I had planned for Ara Fell to be a 10 part series, with "The Legend of Dirisetsu Hollow" as the first installment, parts 1 and 2. That's a hell of a project. By the end of it, I was probably looking at something twice as big as Chrono Trigger, and Chrono Trigger is a big-ass game.

Ara Fell was a flawed game in many ways, but it was a labor of love. This sounds sentimental, and maybe it is, but I really cherished my time putting it together. And somehow, through all the mistakes and bad ideas, I strung together enough coherent thoughts to actually create something I could release. It was still buggy and unpolished when I did, but I was completely burnt out. It was the best I could do, and even in its imperfect state, it meant a lot to me. Ara Fell was released and greeted with modest acclaim and a good reception on the old gamingw forums. I enjoyed the attention. It felt good to have made something people seemed to care about. I immediately began working on the sequel, but quickly realized I was in way over my head... There was no way I was going to be able to pull this off. And that was that. It was like turning off a light switch, or setting down a bag of bricks. I gave up. Ara Fell was dead.

Two years later, after many failed attempts at getting a game going, I started working on Rise of the Third Power (I'll just politely request that those who remember Starlancer Six pretend they forgot about it...) This was a much better game than Ara Fell, at least in technical terms. By the time I got to R3P, I legitimately knew what I was doing. I knew how to make an RPG Maker 2003 game. I had a lot of experience. I had learned from my past mistakes. R3P would have simple systems, straightforward gameplay, a solid and competently-written story.

All I had to do was follow the RPG-making formula. No gimmicks, no special bullshit. I didn't need a 24 hour clock with a day and night cycle. I didn't need a big, fancy CMS. I didn't need to give the player the ability to sprint or crawl, I didn't need cinematic cutscenes with pictures flying around everywhere. No, I just had to write a good story and make an attractive, polished game. No problem. It was still a big project, sure... but I could do it. This was something I was capable of, and capable of doing well. It was something I was capable of actually finishing.

Still, though I loved working on Rise of the Third Power, there was just something missing from it; some intangible thing that Ara Fell possessed that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Honestly, I still can't. But I felt a connection with Ara Fell that I didn't with Rise of the Third Power. Maybe that's just me being childish or naive, but whatever it was, Ara Fell ignited something in me. R3P was a game I liked making. AF was something more than that.

I think a lot of us feel that way as content creators. Authors have a story inside of them they really want to tell, composers have that song inside of them they really want to sing... and game developers have that game in us we really want to play. For me, it wasn't Rise of the Third Power. It was Ara Fell.

I struggled with this a while, still chipping away at R3P, still making progress, still making the solid game I intended to make. I still enjoyed it, after all. I didn't hate R3P. Hell, I loved it. Let's just get this done, I thought, and maybe I can come back to Ara Fell some day.

That all changed one day, though. An email I hadn't expected showed up in my inbox.

It was from Amanda Fitch, creator of Aveyond, someone who I had no previous correspondence with. She contacted me to say that Ara Fell was very popular on her website, and suggested I make a game with RMXP; a commercial game, one that I could sell. She enticed me with stories of her success, of how much easier it was than she had expected. Still hard work, but not the herculean task that it seemed at first. She was making good money, and doing it by selling what I thought was, with all due respect to Amanda, a pretty mediocre product. But she started her own business and was kicking ass with it. And more than that, Aveyond was the game she really wanted to make. Aveyond was her Ara Fell. Say what you want about that game, but it was a labor of love for her too.

This, I thought, was my big break. If Aveyond could do well, imagine what I could do with Ara Fell... That's what I thought to myself, anyway.

I tried to finish Rise of the Third Power. It was important to have a completed project, and R3P still meant a lot to me. Even so, I found myself lacking motivation. I loved it, but I felt like I was wasting my time on it. I couldn't sell it, so what was the point? This was not a wise investment, or so I told myself, no matter how good it might turn out to be. And besides, switching to RMXP to work on a new game would bring me back to the one project I really loved...

I cancelled R3P and Ara Fell XP was born. I found myself an artist (who is still with me today) and a programmer (we're still close friends), and together we set to work on making the sequel, the game I had always wanted to make. I tried to put together, from scratch, what I had always imagined Ara Fell should be, now with the tools and talented people around me to actually see it through.

Below are screenshots of Ara Fell XP.

I made damn near 250 maps for this game, all the towns fleshed out, connected them all, placed all the NPCs. Custom systems were being implemented, pixel movement and real time combat and fancy spells... But I hadn't learned from my mistakes after all. In fact, I repeated them. Ara Fell XP was not only too ambitious of a project for my skill level, it was too ambitious a project to be making in RPG Maker XP.

... and the more we worked on it, the more we realized RMXP was just not going to work. Ara Fell XP was a huge, ambitious project being made by 3 people who had never completed a game before, trying to build it in something that wasn't built to handle it. To remedy this, instead of admitting the problem, I made the absolute biggest mistake I've ever made in regards to game making...

My programmer and I decided to make our own game maker. The plan was simple; he'd make the maker, I'd make the game, and we'd develop both alongside one another. So Ara Fell XP was shelved and Operation: PROPHET and the Frost game maker was born.

That sounds crazy, I know. But for a time it worked. O:P was a side-scrolling shooter built like XCOM, with randomly generated missions where your score at the end allowed you to conduct research to develop new ships, weapons and abilities. The idea was solid, and the game we started churning out was actually fun, or at least I thought so. We slowly began to realize this project was over our heads as well, but we made real, consistent progress. In time, we actually had a product that wasn't all that far from completion. Some particle effects here, some menus there, a few boss battles... We could see light at the end of the tunnel. But there was one problem... We all hated working on it.

Ara Fell and AFXP were fun to make, for lots of reasons. But most of all, those game meant something to me. Operation: PROPHET didn't, not to any of us. It was just another roadblock keeping me from what I had always wanted to work on. My team would go for months with no progress on O:P, getting inspired for a week or so once in a while, then losing interest again.

It went on like this until finally I contacted the programmer and artist, and we all were forced to admit this wasn't going to work. So here I was again, in over my head with a half-finished game I couldn't do anything with. All the while, Amanda had released her third or fourth Aveyond game, Skyborn was generating huge sales on Steam, To the Moon was a viral sensation... and here I was with two dead projects that I had smothered in their sleep. I had tried so many things and failed at them all. And these really were my failures. Maybe it was time to give up... Start focusing on my career instead of this pipe dream I clearly wasn't prepared to handle.

But something I didn't expect happened.

RPG Maker 2003 was released in English. "Cute," I thought. "I ought to go back to doing something I'm good at." I actually remember that moment, rolling my eyes at the idea, remembering fondly when making games was something I loved instead of hated.

Mid eye-roll, it dawned me.

Ara Fell, the game I had always loved... wasn't it theoretically very near a commercial state as it was? REFMAP assets were free to use in commercial projects. Sure, I'd have to replace the soundtrack, but I already had one composed for Ara Fell XP just sitting on a CD in my desk gathering dust. I'd need to replace some graphics, but I already had an artist who was inexplicably willing to stick with me through all this. So all I'd have to do is maybe fix up the writing a little, replace a few things, polish it up, fix the bugs and it'd be ready to go, right?

Not so. I opened up Ara Fell and gave it a play through to see what I'd need to do... and it was a freaking mess. Let me tell you, playing Ara Fell again after so many years was a humbling experience. It was still pretty. The maps were still nice, if a little overly cluttered. But... god, how could I have ever let myself write this? How could I have released it with so many bugs? And why the hell did I think weapon switching was a good idea??

So, now what do I do? I remember staring blankly at some buggy cutscene with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

If I was really going to sell this game... I was going to turn it into something that was worthy of being sold. This thing wouldn't see the light of day until I was really, truly happy with it, no matter what. I made myself a promise. If you're going to accept money for this, your god damn better make sure it's worth paying for.

So I set to work, some five months ago now. It was surreal and clumsy to be back at it again after ten years, but it all started coming back to me. Cliche as it sounds, it was like riding a bike. But what also began to return was the passion I had once felt for game-making and story-telling. That spark I had when I first started this that had slowly fizzled out after reeling from failure after failure. Remember that excited feeling you had when you first opened up RPG Maker, and realize you could do whatever you wanted with it?

For the first time in years, I felt it again.

I've rewritten Ara Fell's story. I've completely remade the battle system. I've retooled the dungeons. I've added new areas, quests, side dungeons and other content. There are new graphics and graphical edits. And this time, Ara Fell will have a proper ending.

And I think... think... that I'll be able to fulfill my promise. I'm not going to sell Ara Fell just because I can. I'm going to make a game that's worthy of being sold.

And when I'm done, maybe I can finally get some closure on this damn thing...

It might be all or nothing for me on this one. If I fall here, I'm going to fall hard, probably for the last time. There's a door in front of me, and I don't know if it's locked. If you'll excuse the sloppy metaphor, all I can do is throw myself against it at this point, and hope it's a door that opens.


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Wow, what an amazing journey that’s it been for you, it seems. It’s almost like reading someone’s famous autobiography about themselves that you once thought that you knew and admired about that person and then you manage to learn so much more about him or her after reading it all than you once initially thought. And it’s also nice to know what truly happened to Ara Fell: First Light, because what TFT, or one of the other #shump members back then said, I dunno who it was, told me that you almost spent $10 000 of your own money to pay for custom resources and stuff for it and then soon went belly up after that and that’s why you had to not only quit the whole project itself but game making altogether. It seems like that was all just delicious lies and slander.

I always dreamt that one day that you would return to this project and it would have a proper conclusion to it and finally get the proper ending that it rightfully deserves. But after so many years and all the hearsay and rumors going on, I never thought that it would ever come to pass. But thanks to Cherry and company and the official release of RPG Maker 2003 and your renewed spirit into this, you’ve returned like a rising phoenix and are willing to not fix things and add more content to the game but finally finish it off for good. And for that, it’s seems like a dream come true, at long last...

Now if only Flare and / or Lysander can come back and do a Romancing Walker sequel or another A Blurred Line game I’m personally set. :)

All I can say now is go get ‘em tiger and finish this puppy off so I can finally give you my money.

(I'll just politely request that those who remember Starlancer Six pretend they forgot about it...)

Strangeluv would be pretty sad if he ever heard you say that; it was one of his personal favorites of yours.

(Also, any chance of you possibly maybe salvaging Ara Fell: First Light in some way or regard? It’d be a shame to just let that whole thing go, even if you just release it as a beta.)
Holy shit... that's an incredible amount of information to share on here. Thank you for that, and I hope that all of this will finally work out.
That was a lovely read, BL. I know exactly what it's like to undertake a labour of love for a project (Enelysion took nearly four years to complete ) but I never thought of going commercial with an RM game( and I doubt I ever will ) since it seems like such a cut-throat industry. I too, always wanted to make pretty-looking polished games that play well. And I still do. =)

I wish you well with Ara Fell's future. It was one of the game's that inspired my own level design, after all.
You're magical to me.
What an interesting read! :D Thanks for sharing! "Work on what motivates you" is a great lesson to learn,

Here's hoping that spark that has been reignited continues to shine bright. ^_^ Bring your dream game to completion!
Thanks for the kind words, everyone. This is here mostly for posterity, for reference for anyone who wonders what the hell has been going on for the last decade in my life, at least in regards to game-making.

I... evidently can't edit this blog post. Sorry about the typos.

And it’s also nice to know what truly happened to Ara Fell: First Light, because what TFT, or one of the other #shump members back then said, I dunno who it was, told me that you almost spent $10 000 of your own money to pay for custom resources and stuff for it and then soon went belly up after that and that’s why you had to not only quit the whole project itself but game making altogether. It seems like that was all just delicious lies and slander.

lol. TFT never did forgive me for that infamous "tier" list, back in the day. And no, I dropped maybe 3 grand on AFXP, and was doing fine financially. AFXP's problem was never money.

AFXP's problem was that I didn't know what the hell I was doing after all.

(Also, any chance of you possibly maybe salvaging Ara Fell: First Light in some way or regard?

RPG Maker MV is looking awfully tempting right now. And I have a big folder of completed AFXP graphics ready to go.

Strangeluv would be pretty sad if he ever heard you say that; it was one of his personal favorites of yours.

That makes me happy, actually. Starlancer Six was a bad idea, and not really much of a game or a story, but I think it did have heart.
I remember playing this game waaaay back and was disappointed it got canceled. I'm glad you've decided to pick it up again! :D

now if someone just bug iishenron about Queen's Court...
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
I... evidently can't edit this blog post. Sorry about the typos.

You can, but you need to do it from the 'manage games' page.
I knew most of this already, but it was still enjoyable to read a coherent account of the whole thing. XD

But yeah, Ara Fell was definitely the Rm2k3 game of the moment (if you will) when it was first released on GamingW. Like Addit summarized effectively; it was the "..Ocarina Of Time of the RM world.." kinda thing -- this huge, very beautiful project that inspired hundreds of us, with the stunning visuals and characters. It had many flaws of course, but it was also pretty damn close to being universally praised in the community. I'm sure even BadLuck has been taken aback by its incredible longevity and popularity.

Seeing this game finally resurface and receive the full polish it deserves is even more of an inspiration. Especially for those of us old enough to realize, it's been one hell of a long time coming.
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
haha i remember starlancer six and how you reused that dungeon for rise of the third power
I also reused a dungeon from Tarion Star for Ara Fell! In my defense, I... think that one didn't actually make it into anywhere playable in the game.
Ah, how nostalgic. Ara Fell was one of the few incomplete RPG Maker games that I actually enjoyed. And now that you're back again after many ups and downs, I really hope you can pull through this time round no matter what the obstacles.

Here's a fan of Ara Fell pushing your on behind your back, BadLuck! :)
Ara Fell was definitely the Rm2k3 game of the moment, if you will, when the GamingW Forums were in their prime. Like Addit nicely said in one review; it was the "..Ocarina Of Time of the RM world.." kind of thing -- this huge, very beautiful project that inspired hundreds of us, with the stunning visuals and characters.

It’s funny, ‘cause I remember downloading it on a whim one day after hearing so much praise about it originally on Gaming World and thought to myself, “There’s no way that this game is that great, right?”

Oh, how wrong I was, lol...
oh... wow.
I feel strangely happy about this even though I think I've only played 10 mins of Ara Fell myself. Also, these Ara Fell XP graphis look nothing short of breathtaking. Like, really. It's almost up there with the greats. o_o

I wish you the best of luck! This is something i have some faith on!

Oh, how wrong I was, lol...

Ha, that's very flattering. Thank you. Though I'm curious what you'll think of Ara Fell: Complete (or whatever the hell I end up naming it).

One of the problems with having your own soundtrack composer, especially when you're not writing it yourself, is that all of Ara Fell's songs were initially selected because I thought they fit their respective scenes perfectly, at least to my ear.

Now there's a layer of abstraction between what I want and what I have. And it's still good. Ara Fell's soundtrack is very nice, if I do say so myself.

But it's not the same. Not everything feels the same, despite my best efforts. I wonder how that will impact people who appreciated the "feel" of the original.

"It's frustrating because - as much as Corf is otherwise an irredeemable person - his 2k/3 mapping is on point." ~ psy_wombats
This reads out exactly like how I felt with Tales from Zilmurik shortly after RM2k3 was brought to the English community. That overwhelming feeling of sitting on a game that you wanted to make and still reeling from making a game you only sorta wanted to make because it'd be some money in your pocket only to have the door swing open and to finally see the light of the outside world shining brighter than ever. Finally I could take my decade-long passion that had only been a labor of love to this point and actually make something out of it.

It really feels like it's all worked out up to now and that English RM2k3 was that final validation that I had struggled with all these years.
"wait you made this a career?"
I was expecting some jokes about there not being the 500 word minimum but wow this is looking amazing I'm really excited!
There is kind of a strange arrogance to suddenly dropping the RM community in favor of wider indie pastures. I remember shortly during the GW collapse there was a sense of everyone sick of being in RPG Maker and that it wasn't a "real engine" like so many other animosities. But idk, times are changing and it turns out RPG Maker isn't that irrelevant after all, even if some of its latest features are still stuck in 2010.

I like R3P a little more since it was very straight forward and felt like it was more than it was supposed to be (opposite than pretentious). But I think the obvious thing is you should keep at a project no matter how unimpressive or irrelevant it may seem. I remember playing Freedom Planet and realizing that the pixel art in that game wasn't perfect, but there was a lot of pixel art, and there was a lot of content in the game. There's the sense that all you need to create a world was to left click in the map editor and that's all you really need. I like that, I think people are more receptive to that more than ever. But it shows that sticking to something will get you somewhere.
Yo-yo-yo! Just tried out the current version. There is room for improvement, but there also seems to be potential for a pretty good game! I know you can do it baby!

Also, I have a question: why did Ara fall?
Self-proclaimed Puzzle Snob
Fantastic read. It's lovely to hear how this project has developed over the years. I knew bits and pieces from a couple of conversations in IRC but this was good to hear in a full length format. I'm glad you're pursuing the project that you had dreamed of doing for so long.
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