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Miscellaneous

Those Wings You like Are Coming Back in Style

It's been five years since Volrath and I actively worked on a project together. It's pretty hard to believe we've been inactive for so long. There were many reasons we went dark but that's for a different blog post.

I just moved back to my homestate where Volrath lives and we discussed working on another project together. I started playing through some of our old projects for inspiration. I hadn't touched or seen X-Noir since 2015 and forgot most of it. During my playthrough, Volrath joined in and we've been having a fun time doing a let's play together and voicing the characters just like we used to do whenever we playtested our games together.

We've been discussing doing a sequel of sorts to X-Noir for the last few years but other than a rough draft of the early game we haven't made any progress. It's been a long time since we've done any serious game make and it's honestly quite intimidating thinking of starting a new project. Playing through X-Noir again, I realized there was a lot of potential for a remake.

X-Noir is described as a "unique combination of logic-based investigations, action RPG gameplay, black humor and science-fiction." It's our most experimental project to date, and ended up being kind of a mess. The action combat is clunky and simplistic, as expected from an action RPG in Ace. The logic-based investigation sequences have a bit too much guessing, and there's a lot of needless back and forth around the city. The story is also a bit all over the place, especially in the beginning. But in the mess there is beauty.

Volrath and I take a very organic approach to game development. We draft a rough outline of the mechanics and story early-on for our games but we leave a lot of room for ideas to emerge later. In the case of X-Noir, we didn't really figure out the identity of the game until around Case 4. By then we had more confidence in the characters, story, and investigational sequences. Because we committed to having an action combat system, we still had segments where Eddie fought off enemies but these were given less focus. We realized the Anxiety mechanic was going nowhere and it just became a superficial aspect of the game.

I've had a lot of time to think about how I'd approach X-Noir if I did it all over again. I would ditch the combat completely, which tonally never fit with the game. In its place, there would be more focus on the Investigation and Interrogation sequences. The Ace Attorney series have been a big source of inspiration, as well as the Zero Escape trilogy, Hotel Dusk, and Danganronpa titles. Eddie was an attorney, and his best friend is a cop, so modeling the game after the Ace Attorney Investigation series would make a lot of sense thematically. I'd also like to rethink the Anxiety/Depression system to have a bigger impact on the overall plot.

Right now Volrath and I are just talking about it. We still have to complete our playthrough and decide if a remake of X-Noir is something we want to do. We fleshed out the world more in Labyrinthine Dreams, as well as the sequel that we're still planning, and it would make sense to remake the game that started it all. I know there isn't as many fans of these games as our titles in the Solest universe but I'm hoping there are still some subs here that would be interested in seeing us taking another swing at this strange sci-fi detective game.

Announcement

Version 1.2 LIVE!

Hi all,

It's been awhile since I dusted off X-Noir but I was reminded that we never released a new build with a fix to the movement bug that prevented players from viewing the final scene. I tested it out myself and it appears to be working correctly so hopefully I fixed it at some point and just never got around to uploading a new build.

I also added Zeus81's Fullscreen++ script. You can now toggle fullscreen using F5 and swap between 3 resolutions using F6.

I haven't tested this version myself so download at your own risk. For now I'm keeping it as a separate download until it's confirmed that this version isn't broken.

Announcement

Twin Peaks inspired adventure game

Would you guys be interested in a Twin Peaks inspired adventure game set in the X-Noir/Labyrinthine Dreams universe?

Progress Report

X-Noir Complete

The "Complete" version of X-Noir is now available for DL. I put it in quotes because while you can play from start-to-finish, the last case (Case 6) is missing the final boss fight sequence and is generally lacking in polish. Still, I thought some people who played previous versions of X-Noir might like to see how the game ended.

I hope fans enjoy the last 2 cases! Case 5 is more or less complete and features an entirely new zone! Case 6 is mostly cutscenes but brings the story to a hopefully satisfying conclusion.

I've already posted how I've felt about this game's reception so I'm not going to reiterate that here. It makes more sense for us to move onto World Remade which will be our next commercial endeavor. But with all the hours we put into X-Noir it would be a shame to never release what we did finish.

For those who would rather just enjoy the plot you can press the "F" key to activate Fomar... I mean God mode!

Game Design

The Notebook + Free writing

So in the last few days I discovered the magic of free writing again. I've been trying a new technique where I pose a question by writing it down in a notebook and then leave it for a day. When I come back I sit down for 30m and start free writing. Eventually the answer is supposed to come and so far it's been successful.

It's best to do it by hand so I've dug up my old notebook that I started when we began X-Noir in summer 2012. I stopped using it around summer last year when I discovered Evernote which I still love. But I've found using Evernote it's a bit difficult to generate ideas. It's amazing for note taking or outlining but when it comes to brainstorming I find it challenging. When I started free writing again though I remembered why I had began the notebook in the first place. The act of physically writing down ideas just seems to get my creative juices flowing a lot faster. Also the lack of distraction of writing in a notebook as opposed to a computer. No wonder George RR Martin still uses DOS to write GoT.

Anyway, I couldn't resist looking through some of the old entries. The first entry dated 6/5/12 is titled "Detective Game Idea". Here's what I wrote:

"The idea for the detective game is that the main character suffers from severe anxiety, phobias, OCD, etc.. This anxiety is represented by a meter. When it fills he has a full blown panic attack. The panic attack should be as realistic as possible..."

So as you can see the anxiety meter was one of the first components of the game DESPITE ending up being underused. Also Eddie doesn't suffer from OCD (transferred that to Katharine) but does still have anxiety/depression.

The next few pages deal more of the anxiety mechanics originally planned, locations for the game included unused ones (casino, strip club, museum...) Some research I did another detective adventure games (Hotel Dusk/Layton) Then finally the gameplay mechanics. I was playing Lone Survivor around that time so there was some inspiration from that.

I also list different states or "moods" Eddie could be in. Sort of like Indigo Prophecy. Depressed, Panicked, Hungover, Drunk. That might have been interesting. I had a turn based battle system outlined too which might have worked better with the anxiety effects. After that I started outlining the ABS we ended up using although a lot of the elements were never implemented like the drunk state and using cover.

I broke the gameplay into "Investigation" and "Combat" which is basically how the cases are structured now. You get the story intros, have to investigate a case and then a combat zone with puzzles. I did write about possibly having a Psych report at the end of each case from his therapist but that never got in.

The sewer zone is detailed next and is pretty much the same as it is now despite there not being much context yet. I also detail an "Inner Monologue" system that we didn't end up using. We use the script though for boss dialogue. It was supposed to show what Eddie was thinking but not interrupt the gameplay with a message window. It would appear at the top of the screen like the boss text does now. His mind state would affect the thoughts as well as the frequency. Another cool idea and script (that fomar implemented) that could probably be used for something else. The factory zone is also outlined here without context and is still pretty much the same as it is now.

A lot of what made X-Noir (and didn't) is contained in this notebook which is pretty awesome. Evernote is great but it doesn't quite have the treasured feeling of a designer notebook. Anyway it's time to start filling the pages again with the end of X-Noir/beginning of Kobold.

Progress Report

X-Noir Near Completion

Now that Labyrinthine Dreams is complete and out on steam Volrath and I have had time to start refocusing on our other projects. The two running right now are codenamed Project Kobold which we plan to be our next commercial project and also another game in the Solest universe... and X-Noir.

Despite 0 feedback on case 4 Volrath and I felt it was worthwhile to complete the game since we were fairly close to done. Case 5 is more or less done and Case 6 (the final case) is also nearing completion. Volrath is still committed to the project although my interest in it has faltered quite a bit as of late. Seems silly though to leave an open loop when we're so near completion.

I do notice a pattern though. Besides when we initially worked on the game back in June 2012 we've had long periods of inactivity. It wasn't always related to the game. There was sickness, babies, Labyrinthine Dreams, et.. But for me there was also a lack of intrinsic motivation. Perhaps because there's no extrinsic motivation as well. Although that's always just been fuel added to the fire. But for me the fire is mostly just smoldering ashes right now.

That said, I don't want the game taking up either of our attention. So I think there is value in finishing the game. It's also another notch in our belt. It might never be widely played but it's nice to have to show that we were working on something at the time and this is what we thought was important. Although it can be painful.

I guess this blog post REALLY came about because I was playing through the game again - particularly the intro. Having had a little more time apart from the game and looking at it more objectively I'm finding a lot of faults with it. Nothing that hasn't really been said before. I'm reading through old blogs and reviews again and agreeing with a lot of the criticism I see there. It's hard when you're deeply invested in a project to see these things but now that I don't feel so invested maybe that's why they're even more apparent.

Anyway, that was a bit of a meandering blog post. I guess we'll be finishing the game within the next few weeks. If so, we might release it here. Or we might just share it with our friends. If we do put in the effort to get a public version ready I hope some of the people that invested time in it before will finish it. Around case 3 I think the game really starts to hit its stride. Not many people have seen them yet but case 4 and 5 have some great scenes and I really like how the new zones came out.

It's legacy might be that it had characters and a world that inspired Labyrinthine Dreams and maybe even future titles.

Announcement

X-Noir Case 4 Available

X-Noir Case 4 is now available for download! There have been several changes to the game since the last release - including new art and music.

Case 4 features a new zone - Snake Island. Artie also tags along with Eddie for this case, adding a whole new character dynamic. New enemies, puzzles, interrogations and more. Please be sure to leave feedback!

Announcement

A kickstarter for X-Noir's "little sister"

So last time, I told you guys about the connection between X-Noir and Labyrinthine Dreams. You could think of them as sibling projects. There's been some big news going on in the Solest Games household.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1030973909/labyrinthine-dreams

We’re hoping to raise $6,000 to give LD a visual makeover that will achieve our vision for a dreamlike atmosphere and help make the game more viable in the independent game market. Our four minute video will give you all the details on the game and our plans if you don’t already know…as well as a retrospective of our previous work.

We’ve only got a month to pull this off, so we’re really hoping the people who have enjoyed our free games over the years will come out and support the cause. We’ve had a great time making those games and it seems a lot of people in the RM community enjoyed playing them. We considered doing this for X-Noir back when we first started to work on it, but now I'm glad we chose Labyrinthine Dreams for this venture. It's smaller scope makes this more feasible.

So what happens to X-Noir? Don't worry, we intend to finish it and we intend for it to remain free. I have really enjoyed creating this story and characters and I still work on sporadically. I suspect it will slowly creep along while LD soaks up more of the attention for now. One day you might load RMN and find out that it's been done! Case IV is mostly done and afterwards is Case V and then the shorter finale of Case VI.

In the meantime, support for our efforts with LD would be much appreciated! Whether it's a donation or simply spreading the word, you'll have our gratitude.

Miscellaneous

Labyrinthine Dreams and X-Noir

They are two very different projects, but they actually take place in the same world. We intend for both of them to stand on their own, but I figured it would be fun to reveal the ties between them.

A game based on dreams was something ArtBane wanted to do for a long time - it gives a certain amount of freedom with the level design since you no longer have to even try to make a realistic setting. With X-Noir becoming a bigger project than anticipated (though obviously not as huge as Master of the Wind), he was itching for a smaller-scale project that could perhaps be used for a contest or special event. Release Something Weekend became that event and the timing was fortunate - we had done a substantial amount of work already and we were able to bring it in for a landing with very little stress or any sense of rushing.

The connection between the games centers on the character of Beth (and her love interest, Artie). In contrast to Eddie, Beth is a hopeful and positive person...at least when you meet her in X-Noir. But Labyrinthine Dreams takes place ten years beforehand, during a much darker time in her life. I always planned for Beth to have major past hardships behind that lovely smiling face Ronove made for her, but this was a chance to go into more detail than I would have otherwise. Plus, it helped me maintain interest in this side-project since I was (and still am) very focused on X-Noir.

As I said earlier, each game is meant to stand on its own. I don't want to spoil important story points for either game, but here's the key points. If you find LD's ambiguous ending frustrating, I got the cure for you right here, just click that download button and you'll know plenty more about what happened to her. And if you've played X-Noir and are interested in learning more about the lives of these NPCs, LD will make you feel like you know Beth and Artie much better. However, Shroud and Stoic will not be making an appearance. ;)

Miscellaneous

Expectations

I've heard quite a few times now that X-Noir "isn't really noir," both in a visual sense and a story sense. The visual thing was obvious, we've been aware of it from day one, but I don't like the idea that certain genres/themes should just be off-limits if you don't have access to the proper customized tilesets and fall back on the RTP style. I'd rather just experience that joy of creating while still being aware of a potential visual weakness. Without that, MotW would never have ever been finished and this one would have gone nowhere. Obviously, Ronove's faces have been a step in the right direction and perhaps we'll eventually be able to construct a complete visual theme to suit X-Noir's eccentricities...or perhaps not. Either way, we keep working.

But in regards to the story itself, the disconnect has been growing more clear. The original description of the project was a good example of that...not long ago, we realized that it did not paint an accurate picture at all of the game. We weren't lying to you guys or anything, that really WAS our original vision for X-Noir. But we seem to have a longstanding problem with adhering to the expectations we set. Or to put it another way - X-Noir has as much in common with The Maltese Falcon as Master of the Wind did with Spider-Man...a little bit, but not much. We heard a few times in MotW that it's description as a "superhero" game didn't give any hints to the more traditional fantasy epic it became. I still think MotW has a lot of commentary on the whole concept of superheroes, but its similarity to the comics that inspired it dwindled the farther it went on.

I don't think these gradual shifts are a bad thing...they are very organic and you might as well make the project you feel drawn to making. However, early descriptions and characterizations of X-Noir now feel far removed from the game it's becoming. I've written a new one that hopefully captures it better and I hope that if you've avoided the project thus far, it might persuade you to give it a shot. More news when we've got it.
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