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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.

Posts

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Hey grats on the kid, also played the demo and enjoyed a lot of the core stuff.

Main issues with the battle system is me forgetting how to switch targets or not exactly knowing that I was targeting with the heal spell the whole time so I'd sometimes accidentally heal the wrong person. In general though this is the kind of a battle system where I'm not sure if I'm able to avoid getting hit even though it's something you can move around in freely. I get that it's similar to Xenoblade most likely where you're just supposed to take the hit and trade back and forth, but like other semi-action games it'd be nice if that was crystal clear. The only thing worth moving out of the way for seems to be the toxic floor that the snakes leave behind (which the AI likes to roll in like a pig in mud).

I did not know what the hat icon skill does, have no idea. It might help to have some skills freeze time and call out what they do, or to make targeting easier ala Secret of Mana.

The only awkward fights visually I've seen were the jail cell snakes. Didn't realize I could go through the walls and it just generally felt awkward not seeing the snakes. Also there was a section where I was fighting enemies under the UI. Probably best to look into the worst case scenarios.

I really like the flow of the conversations, there's only like two actual cutscenes if I recall and I already got a sense of the story without dropping a beat. The only time I got distracted and missed a story thing was when I was pushing the bookshelf, idk something about noticing a pushable object for the first time took over my focus. But that's really the only time I lost track of the convos. Though this is going to be different for everyone I imagine.

I got stuck on this puzzle and didn't see an easy way to reset it, had to reload a save.

I gave up on the boss, I don't really like baby sitting on the AI to not take in all the hits. Also there's very little warning for when the barrage of slime balls are going to come out, hiding behind the pillars and spamming leap is the only strat I can think of to do but I have difficulty micro managing the two characters to do that. Obviously this is probably going to be the biggest design challenge to tackle: making good party AI. But even something like "keep at a distance and only use range attacks" would be good.

Some technical nitpicky things mostly regarding Game Maker:

Pixels seem really wonky when fullscreened, yet fine in windowed. There's a shimmering effect where the pixels don't quite line up with where they should be. It's extremely noticeable in camera moves. What resolution is that game at? I think it might be that you're not using proper integer scaling (that it doesn't fully fit into a 1920x1080 thing, but I'm not sure, eyeballing it... it seems like a 720p scaled up 3x in windowed mode which seems weird since the width would have to be something like 426.6.

AI following you seems... weird, are you using mp_potential at all? I tend to make a grid out of collision tiles and have the AI go on a path to avoid obstacles and reach the player and it works really well. I mostly derived what I know from this tutorial and it seems to work better than other methods I've tried. mp_potential_step is a bit of a blackbox though, but there's enough to work around to make it useful.

The camera sometimes juts forward in random spots. I don't know what would cause it.

Maybe I'm used to RPGMaker at this point but I really like having confirm/cancel be on the Z and X keys as an option. I like the WASD + arrow key setup for battles so having Z and X under it would work better I think.
dragonheartman
Developer, Starless Umbra / Heroes of Umbra
2729
Awesome! This is so helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share such detailed feedback.

author=Darken
Hey grats on the kid, also played the demo and enjoyed a lot of the core stuff.
Thank you! I'm glad you were able to mostly get through the demo.

author=Darken
Main issues with the battle system is me forgetting how to switch targets or not exactly knowing that I was targeting with the heal spell the whole time so I'd sometimes accidentally heal the wrong person.
Right, there's a lot going on and it's not all tutorialized yet, so it's probably even more confusing. Heal in particular with the extra click is a bit easier to target if you look at the HUD and use up/down. The cursor being in two places probably makes things more confusing.

author=Darken
The only thing worth moving out of the way for seems to be the toxic floor that the snakes leave behind (which the AI likes to roll in like a pig in mud).
Yep, I don't think micromanaging characters positions (especially when they walk right back into danger) is all that enjoyable. Smarter AI here would go a long way.

author=Darken
I did not know what the hat icon skill does, have no idea. It might help to have some skills freeze time and call out what they do, or to make targeting easier ala Secret of Mana.
That one drops a trap which damages enemies. Agreed, a proper tutorial/iconography here would help tremendously.

author=Darken
Also there was a section where I was fighting enemies under the UI.
Good callout. There should be some margins here. The eventual idea here would be some enemies hide out to ambush the players, but that area in particular is very cramped.

author=Darken
The only time I got distracted and missed a story thing was when I was pushing the bookshelf, idk something about noticing a pushable object for the first time took over my focus. But that's really the only time I lost track of the convos.
I do think going back and revisiting this to be more player-driven (eg, pressing a button to advance) or adjusting convo speed would be great to configure. Secondarily having a way to revisit past conversations, as well as a checklist to view past conversations (and maybe see some you may have missed) could help here. I'm gonna keep tweaking this.

author=Darken
I got stuck on this puzzle and didn't see an easy way to reset it, had to reload a save.
Ah, probably need a mechanic or item to reset rooms.

author=Darken
I gave up on the boss, I don't really like baby sitting on the AI to not take in all the hits. Also there's very little warning for when the barrage of slime balls are going to come out, hiding behind the pillars and spamming leap is the only strat I can think of to do but I have difficulty micro managing the two characters to do that. Obviously this is probably going to be the biggest design challenge to tackle: making good party AI. But even something like "keep at a distance and only use range attacks" would be good.
Good callouts regarding the AI. All the abilities are scripted so having more time between the skill broadcast and the barrages would be helpful. There is a completely undocumented skill augment system (accessed from the skills menu) which makes the boss much more manageable.

author=Darken
What resolution is that game at?
It's 432x243, so not exactly 16:9. My viewport stretches so I think that probably is to blame. Aside, I used this tutorial to smooth out the camera and keep things all aligned to the pixel and remove the character jitters you called out a few months back.

author=Darken
AI following you seems... weird, are you using mp_potential at all?
No, though I do use mp_grids to add cells from the collision layer and then mp_grid_path for the actual movement, occasionally building new paths if targets change. I should revisit this and look into mp_potential. mp_grid_path does some smoothing I'm not terribly crazy about, and I was having trouble adding points to a path in-progress. I got it "good enough" for now and I'm dreading it a bit but will likely need to redo some of it at some point haha.

author=Darken
The camera sometimes juts forward in random spots. I don't know what would cause it.
The camera focuses on a point in front of the player while they move, but focuses on the player while they're not moving. It's a little janky, could probably interpolate this a bit.

author=Darken
Maybe I'm used to RPGMaker at this point but I really like having confirm/cancel be on the Z and X keys as an option. I like the WASD + arrow key setup for battles so having Z and X under it would work better I think.
I've just rewritten this to add key remapping (as well as gamepad support). I agree, Z and X are great.
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