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Announcement

2020 is over!

2020 is over. To briefly reflect on the past year, it has been stressful in ways I'm sure don't need belaboring. On the bright side, I feel like I've endured a year of both personal and professional growth. I've also cherished the positive life moments a bit more. Most notably, I'm a dad now. ("This COVID thing will totally blow over by the time our daughter arrives." --me, completely wrong circa last February)

Anyway, hello 2021! Time for game updates.

I went almost eight years without a release. Yesterday I finally broke that streak. I'm not very good at sticking to dates I set for myself; however, I did push myself to publish something before 2021, no matter what that something was. In good old "Release Something" tradition, I did it! There's now a new download of the latest something I could share with you guys at the literal 11th hour of 2020.

What happened? Why did it take so long? I talked about this a couple months back, but the short story is that Heroes of Umbra became a thing and I don't like leaving projects unfinished, even if they take roughly 15 times longer to complete than planned.

It's not a lot, but mostly everything is there in some shape or form. It's not a true vertical slice--most notably the demo doesn't have any minigames (yet!!)--but it should give you a bit of an unrefined taste of what I'd like to try to accomplish. If you have an opportunity to give it a try, please let me know your thoughts, what you'd improve, if you see this as something you could get into, and so on.

As an aside I did realize right before I published that none of the plaintext data is obfuscated or hidden in any way. Ooops. Feel free to mod the demo to taste. Crank the profanity to 11 or give your characters millions of HP.

To indulge you with the history of this project, I remember the first maps I made dabbling with RPG Maker 2000. I used the circle tool to draw a Mickey Mouse-shaped island with the default RTP assets in all their saturated glory. My mom asked me if I was into a girl who liked Disney. I wasn't. I had just gotten done playing Kingdom Hearts though.

I then went on to create a series of dungeon mazes and a village. With no direction and a vague "find adventure" plot I submitted a demo to GamingW.net. My ego was shredded. But I kept it up and learned to appreciate the criticism and continued to be inspired by contemporary game developers. It's weird to think of a time before the adjective "indie" described video games.

The older I get, the tighter I embrace my childhood dreams. I'm so grateful for all the support I've received in the near two decades I've struggled to make an RPG. The sincere messages I occasionally receive mentioning how they used to play the game way back when it was Dragon Heart or how they still have their scratch and sniff stickers are my fuel.

Enjoy the demo! I hope to share more with you guys in 2021. Thanks for your support.

Progress Report

Christmas Updates

Merry Christmas! Hope you're staying healthy and handling the holiday season well. I have more updates for you today. Let's dive straight in.

Much less "prototypey"



Stats + skills are now awarded on level up. Items and equipment exist now. Enemies are balanced and positioned around the maps in ways that make more sense. Monsters currently never respawn! I'm going to experiment with this and see how it might discourage grinding and item hoarding. Combat will be more challenging but less frequent. Chests actually award items. All in all it is beginning to feel more like a "real" rpg.

More Menus



I've built out simple inventory, equip, skills, hotkeys, and save/load menu screens. These are far from polished, but the high-level functionality exists.

Misc Systems



Toasts now show up at the top of the screen when someone levels up, casts a spell, or finds an item. Secondary dialogue and tips appear unobtrusively along the bottom of the screen.

Juice



I've added some animations, particle effects, sounds, etc in an effort to make things look and feel a little more satisfying.

A Boss

I've implemented a boss prototype with some more challenging skills. It's still in the balancing/sprite design phase so I'll share more when that's complete.

What's Next?

I'm still marching towards a prototype some time early 2021 with the first 20 minutes of gameplay or so (fingers crossed). I'll be sharing that on discord first when it's ready. I've also started a twitter account specifically for game updates. Please check them out if you're interested in more.

Thanks for reading and take care.

Progress Report

Dungeons, Menus, Puzzles, Progress!

Hi! How are you? Hope you're well! I've been chugging away and have a few updates to share with you.

Dungeon Maps



I've made some progress on the first dungeon area. It's smallish in size, with 6-7 mostly straightforward maps and the revival of the character switching mechanics from SU2k3. Paired with character switching is another JRPG staple: pushable blocks and floor switches. I felt these were a safe starting point. As development continues I'll add more mechanics to play with as well.

Ambience and lighting are missing; those will come later on (after a demo I hope!)

WIP Menus



I've got a small framework in place to handle menus, which are basically a collection of windows under the hood. Some windows can have child windows which adds for some neat logical grouping. This isn't very far along but it seems to work well. Again, I'm borrowing a lot of design here from 2k3 and some classic JRPGs.

The text is really ugly! I use bitmap fonts, and GM's anti-aliasing is a bit too much, so at some point later I'll probably end up manually anti-aliasing + outlining the larger stylized fonts.

Battle System

I've added the focus system from SU2k3, where monsters prioritize players to target based on how much damage they've dealt. This will be integral to planning out battles and mitigating damage. Monsters can now have multiple skills, each with some priority associated with it.

JSON Databases

Character, Monster, Skills, Items, etc are stored and loaded from JSON files. I might make a client to modify these on the go in the future, but for now they keep swaths of game data out of code and organized a bit.

Up next
A boss battle, save/load data, the first major town, and more menu screens. Thanks for reading. I hope you have a great day.

Progress Report

First cutscene + some battle system progress

Hi friends, hope you're doing well and staying safe. I've made some progress and I'm eager to share it with you.

Cutscenes


Clydan gets upgraded to a professor!

I briefly mentioned the rm2k-inspired cutscene system I built to handle scripted events in the last blog. So far that has made cutscene implementation much faster, as I've made the commands more concise and powerful. I've gotten to the point where the commands needed for most cutscenes are in, so I've been able to implement drafts of the game's first two scenes.

This same cutscene system also drives skill animations in-combat as well. It's incredibly simple but effective.

You might also notice the addition of new character portraits. My wife designed these based off of the sprites I shared last month. They're still a WIP but I like them a lot.

Battle System


You hunt the bunnies by jumping on them

You'll immediately notice I killed dedicated battle maps and opted for real-time combat. This was inspired by Xenoblade Chronicles, FF7R, and other modern JRPGs. (Chrono Trigger also did this 25 years ago and it blew my mind!) Details are still being ironed out but the plan is to trim out a lot of the stereotypical battle system fluff and focus on core mechanics to make combat feel fresh, customizable, and engaging. I'm exploring limiting the skills you can bring into combat to 4 from your pool, minimal resources, and restoring HP between battles/removing consumable items entirely. I'll share more features as I implement them.

Upcoming

There's still tons to do! Existing UI still needs polishing/animating. I've got some tiles/characters to design and a few more system mechanics to experiment with. There's also a ton of polish/other flourishes missing from maps. The goal is to do what I can to push forward towards a completed prologue. I can polish along the way and share a demo once things move out of the prototype phase.

I'm trying to stream some of the creative process on the game's facebook page biweekly. I usually make maps to ambient music, so if that's your thing please check it out.

Thanks for reading! Take care.

Progress Report

Some slow movement

Hi there! I hope you're doing well in these crazy times. A couple things are moving forward for this project and I wanted to provide a little bit of news. First, a quick recap of what's happened in the last few years:

1. In 2016-2017 I tried making my own engine, UmbraCraft. It's open-source and available on github if you're interested. This was a great experience, but it abstracted out some of the things I enjoyed more than I realized now (such as making maps) and the editor was more cumbersome to use than 2k3. Oops.

2. In 2018 I tried using EasyRPG -- an open-source RPG Maker interpreter. This was great because it was cross-platform, modern, and I even was into rebuilding a battle system on top of their work. But the nagging feeling in the back of my head was the story and assets felt a bit fragmented, so those would need revisiting again.

(Aside: In 2018 I completed and launched Heroes of Umbra on Steam. It was incredibly stressful.)

2.5 I also spent some time with Unity but it felt like overkill, especially for a 2D game.

3. 2020! Post-quarantine. Finally after playing with other engines, I'm enjoying Gamemaker Studio. Here's a tweet showcasing my attempt at recreating a map in a 2k3-style.


This workflow feels incredibly good. I have a light cutscene system that parses text files. Events can be triggered by collision, interaction, or on map enter. Anyone using 2k3 will be very familiar with the syntax:
show_screen(1)

pan_to(360, 151, 10)
wait(8)
hide_screen(1)
wait(2)
configure_message(false, false, center)
show_message("Focus...|Take a deep breath, squeeze, and throw.")
hide_message()

This is a segment of the intro, and does the following:


I've also spent some time tidying up the characters and the story. Gameplay and character development take the stage, but spending the time to come up with a cohesive story up-front will save me some headaches down the road.


Armed with a bit more pixel art capabilities and strong nostalgia for 2k3 character sprites, this is where I landed on the character styles. In general, characters will look and feel much more different than before. (I don't know what I was thinking giving two of my main characters blue hair!)

I'll keep sharing more as things move along, thanks so much for reading. It means a lot to me.

Miscellaneous

Download Fixed

I updated the download to an installer. This should fix two issues:

1. No one installs the font. This takes care of that automatically.
2. Broken/Missing plugins. Everything should work without having to manually move around DynRPG plugins.

Please give it a download and let me know if you encounter any issues. Thanks!

Progress Report

March/April Updates

April marks one year since I started work on Starless Umbra’s engine. Since then, progress has been steady, but at times slow. Nonetheless, I feel it’s important to step back and objectively revisit what I was able to accomplish in the past two months.


Animation frames support coloring, sounds, and particle effects. Note the blood effect on enemy hit and the dust that appears on enemy approach.

Scripts now support basic control flow and copy/paste. Inspired heavily by RPG Maker’s event editor.


Skills are no longer hard-coded. Damage, cost, targeting, animations, and so on are all defined in the editor.

Enemies/enemy groups are no longer hardcoded.


The engine now supports parties and an inventory. More importantly, there’s an equip screen to change character equipment.

Game data (party, position, inventory, and flags) can be saved and loaded to disc.

Support for sounds/music. It’s small but worth mentioning.

Timed hits. Ever since I experienced this in Super Mario RPG I knew it was something I wanted to experiment with. This, combined with a few other tricks, should hopefully make battles feel more interactive.

Pathfinder improvements (stairs and cliffs). This is a constant struggle but basic pathfinding will go a long way with making scripted cutscenes more manageable.

Formulas from max hp to exp needed are all defined in the editor.

...And more! This is just a very quick, high-level overview but I’m planning on going a little more in depth with a video soon, so if you have any questions please let me know. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Progress Report

Happy 2016! Come see what I've done.

I’m still working on this! I’ve kept quiet but I’ve been fairly productive and I want to share with you progress on Starless Umbra, specifically the engine and editor.

Engine Updates

The engine can render maps and execute little scripts attached to entities. With this, simple "events" like visible encounters, pathfinding, and treasure chests are possible.

Since map data is stored at the altitude-level instead of the tile-level, creating maps doesn’t take very long. At the expense of some of the clever perspective hacks we used to make truly beautiful 2D maps in RM I’m able to present "3D" worlds on a 2D plane. No tile passability weirdness to worry about.


Making a little mesa in the editor...


...and how it looks in the engine.

I can even do some stuff with terrain and water levels:


In the editor it looks like someone barfed up confetti


But the engine... Miyazaki-level aesthetics yet??

With what I learned from spriting for Heroes of Umbra, I decided to redo all of the game’s assets. I can’t really afford an artist at this time so tiles will trickle their way into the game slowly.

Character/Story Updates

In regards to the story, I’m pretty happy with where things are headed. In general not a lot is getting redone. I never wanted to make an RPG with an earth-shattering plot, but I am trimming some of the fat and adjusting the game’s pacing. In general it should feel very similar to what I’ve established up to this point (for better or for worse): you’re still finding your way back home playing fun minigames and battles in the process.



With the asset swap and lack of character template restrictions, I did decide to tweak many of the characters’ appearances. I hope to give more characters some uniqueness. For instance, Andoru’s best buddy Clydan is about 10-15 years older, darker, bigger, and buffer than RM2k3 Clydan will ever hope to be. Additionally, allies that help you on your journey might take the role of interesting new races. I feel this physical complementarity will help me take the game’s characterization to new heights while challenging myself as a pixel artist.

I had more things I wanted to delve into but I’ll save those for another time. As things stand I’m happy with the progress I’ve made on my own so far. Building a full-length RPG/engine seems strangely more feasible than bumbling around in RM2k3. (*Shh* don't crush my dreams.)

Announcement

Work resumes

Official 2k3 Release?!

Working with 2k3 burnt me out. The limitations of the engine and dwindling support on Windows took its toll on me shortly after my 2013 update of Starless Umbra. I’ve tried to resume the game but I don’t see myself going back to the engine again.

With the official English translation of 2k3 release I did briefly reconsider returning to the engine; however, I never stopped using RM2k3 because it was illegal. Even if I turn back to the engine I’d need to re-design effectively all the content to be original and stuck with a vanilla battle system.

However…

Not all is lost. Between 2013 and today, I made Heroes of Umbra. Creating a simple engine and graphics from scratch invigorated me in new ways. As development for HoU comes to a close, I find myself thinking about SU more and more.

This, combined with the things I’ve learned spending the past year working as an android game programmer got me thinking some crazy thoughts.

I’m in the early phases of writing an open-source cross-platform 2D RPG engine, and SU will be its guinea pig. The engine, which I’ve cleverly named UmbraCraft uses the libGDX framework with functionality specific to designing an RPG tacked on top. Its target audience is programmers who don’t want a lot of hand-holding when developing an RPG but desire tools to streamline the content creation.

Handles:
Orthogonal 2D Map rendering and collision (Procedurally generated or created via Tiled)
Entity Management, Pathfinding, & Interactions
Events/Scripted Cutscenes
Database Management (Heroes, Items, Skills, Animations, etc.)

Doesn’t Handle:
User Interfaces, Menus
Battle Systems

“But I’m not a programmer! I don’t care about your engine! When is SU gonna be done?”

I’ve spent a lot of time using RM2k3 and I’m going to avoid the pitfalls that made the editor cumbersome to use. The lack of local variables, event management, pathfinding, and so on made scripting events a pain. Hunting through three pages of event commands and counting the number of characters on a message so it didn’t get cut off was never fun. I hope that the scripted cutscenes functionality will be inspired by 2k3 without some of its pains.

I also love making maps, but it does take a lot of time. I don’t know if I could go another ten years working on this project, so procedurally generated maps is another shortcut that will help me save time. In the end, though, I’m not sure how long this will take. A few years?

tl;dr, sorry but I gotta start over again. I'll have more details soon.

Announcement

Starless Umbra 9.0.0b Released!

In addition to the prologue, the game download here on RMN now includes Chapter One.



I'm actually not sure what people will think of this release; I've gotten no external feedback on it at all. I will say that it's more in-line with the original vision of the game that was poorly-executed with the first release of chapter one back in 2004ish. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but I promised to release something today so it's here.



The game plays through about the first 15-20% of the storyline. Enhancements have been made to the game's battle system, graphics, and UI. As I move forward with the releases I'm hoping to convert more and more of the graphics to original assets.

Gameplay-wise, this is everything you'd expect from Starless Umbra. Chapter One has one of my favorite mini-games, the revised mine carts.



The revised skill and equipment will also play more of an active role as character customization improves with several new pieces of gear. This, combined with some of the enhancements to the battle system should make for some interesting battle mechanics that are barely beginning to scratch the surface of what's to come.

Thanks kindly for your support. It's been a bumpy ride but I appreciate your interest in this project more than ever.
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