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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.)


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.


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.

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.


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.


Back in production. New release Feb 1, 2013.

So I'm working on this again. Thanks for your words of encouragement during the past few months while this project was on hiatus.

The much-needed overhaul of chapter one is scheduled to be released on February 1st, this year even!

Happy new year.

PS, here's a facebook event if you're interested.


Donate and get a poster!

Last May I gave away lots of posters at FanimeCon in San Jose. I still have lots of posters that I'm willing to mail out if any of you want some. The only thing is shipping mailer tubes isn't as inexpensive as shipping out Scratch 'n' Sniff Stickers, so if you donate at least $5 to cover the shipping and packaging costs, I'll send a few posters your way.

Donate $5: Get two posters
Donate $12: Get four posters + some scratch n sniff stickers.
Donate any other amount: Leave me a note on what you'd like!

Also I know some of you are (understandably) resistant to throw cash at a 2k3 game, but the donations are merely to cover the cost to manufacture and ship out all this stuff. I'm not looking to make any profit from this project (there's a 9-to-5 for that!) and any extra money I may accumulate from donations will just go towards producing more things to give away next.

Thanks and I seriously appreciate it!

Game Design

Q&A: Revisions, when will they end?!

Hello dhm, first of all, let me say I am a huge fan of yours. I have been following Starless Umbra ever since it was called Dragon Hearts. But I really got to ask, you have "remade" the game 3 times now, and personally I am so scared of you hitting that wall in which you try to make the game so DAMN good (as if its not already), you stop the project. I have seen this so many times in most of my rpg maker projects, Iron Gaia 2, Dark Eternal 2, and many many more. Will this be the last remake?
— Asked by Anonymous

Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you’ve been following this for a while and I hope you’re enjoying the direction I’m taking the game. Regardless, your concerns are valid and I want to take a moment to clarify a few things.
The reason for the current remake is because of what I’ll call plot drift. Essentially, I started this project with a vague idea of how it would start and end, with a big storyline gap in the middle that I mistakenly thought I could fill in as I went along. As I developed my vision of the current and even prior versions changed, and I sloppily retrofitted much of the game to accommodate new mechanics and plot devices. For example, the Tech system which is now gone and even the character Illia were afterthoughts that changed the direction of the game. Now that I have the plot finalized the latest revisions are being put into place for two main reasons:

1. Fix the issues I have with some gameplay mechanics, such as random battles.
2. Provide consistency to the game as a whole by updating much of the storyline content (dialogue, events, etc) from the first few chapters.

In other words, I’m quite happy with the game. Even the storyline (that doesn’t get much love) is now finally completely thought-out, though that doesn’t reflect the current version. Most of it is currently pretty solid, but there are things that unfortunately don’t fit as well as they should. The current remake is heavily focused on fixing the first few chapters, but from late chapter two onward I am actually very happy with the game. This later content won’t need much, if any, changing storyline-wise.

Naturally, some gameplay changes are being introduced, such as changes to battles and balancing, some new facesets (eventually), new music, and so on but those are all cosmetic. The meat of the game is still complete and I’d like to think that I can finish up things in a very timely manner once I get through some early-game hurdles.

Starless Umbra is something I want to continue to polish, though. So in fact this won’t be the last remake, but that’s because I want to publish this game on a new platform (mobile), essentially abandoning RPG maker for something completely original both from a programming perspective and a graphics perspective. Rest assured I don’t want to abandon this game regardless of the platform—-it will be turning ten years old in December! :)

Thanks for your concern and patience. This is a long and tedious process as an individual developer, but I think the RM version will be a solid proof-of-concept to really hype up and get more people interested what I hope will be a truly independent and 100% original game.

Progress Report

July to Present: Progress Report!


I just wanted to briefly highlight some of the progress that has been made on this project in the past couple weeks. If you're a visual person, please feel free to skip right to my latest screenshots.

  • Animated monsters for the second dungeon
  • Implemented new monsters for the second dungeon (balancing, loot tables, and so on)
  • Designed and developed a few adjustments to the game menu
  • Added most NPCs for the second town
  • Included several new pieces of equipment, balanced their prices, and implemented their appropriate skills
  • Downloaded and modified several royalty-free sound effects for monsters, switches, crowds, and so on
  • Fixed some bugs with the prologue
  • Created a new tileset edit for a new dungeon in chapter one
  • Mapped all of aforementioned dungeon in chapter one
  • Implemented several major cutscenes for the chapter and even a few fun minor ones as well
  • Added a purely cosmetic panting animation when the hero depletes his stamina while running

These are also posted on the website, but I'd like to keep you all updated here as well.

I hope your summer is winding down to a wonderful end. If it wasn't all that it was hyped up to be, I hope I can bring some comfort in announcing before the end of the month a specific release date for chapter one. Because if you're like me, your summer just feels incomplete without the consolation that a new major Starless Umbra release is right around the corner.

Jokes aside, thank you for your support and interest in this project. It means a lot to me.


starlessumbra.com got an overhaul

I took the cheap route and decided to publish all my content through tumblr rather than maintaining and duplicating my updates with the official forums. With that, you'll find that I've got a nice little premium theme and there's much more content. This will force me to keep all my updates related to Starless Umbra, too.

click to visit!

Regarding a release, things are underway. Chapter one is the point of the game I am least happy with, so it will have to go through a few changes. I'll announce a date hopefully soon.

Also if you do pixel art, have some spare time, and want to make some money/contribute to the starless-umbra-needs-more-original-graphics fund, please contact me.


Starless Umbra 8.0.1b released!

Sorry for the blogspam, but 8.0.1b is here.

The biggest changes include a massive filesize reduction, a lack of random encounters, some fixes with wonky dialogue, general mechanics changes, and more.

If you haven't played the revised prologue, now is a great opportunity to. As I remake the older chapters, your feedback is greatly appreciated (and helps shape future iterations of this project).

Thank you for your support!

Progress Report

Gameplay updates

In making my May 1st release, one major feature got cut out that I didn't have time to implement: removing random battles. The great news is I've committed to removing them, and in fact the next version I've been discussing will feature these changes.

New features showcased in the video:

- On-touch enemy encounters
- Monster loot
- Level-up notifications
- Minor changes to sound/animations
- Probably something else I forgot

I'll be rolling out these changes in a version of the game coming soon to get a feel for what people think of the system. For instance, in the video posted, monsters seem to spawn in random spots and easily trap the player. Can something be done to fix that? Hopefully.

It's going to take some fine-tuning, but everything is incredibly modular and easy-to-modify. I hope you all will enjoy the changes!

Now, onto chapter one--this is in-progress. Unfortunately chapters one and two require the most radical changes just so they align with the rest of the game without any major plot hiccups. As I mentioned, dialogue and story might not be perfect, but the goal is to actually finish this in a timely manner and be happy with all aspects of it.