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Balmung's Legacy: From 2011 and Beyond

When I began Balmung six years ago, it was definitely the most ambitious project I had ever created. Designed for the sole purpose of stealing the show in Carius' code-off competition, I was certainly surprised by what my opponents fought back with (DE, I still love your Solstice game even today!). It took second place, an honor which I grudgingly shared with others like Legion, who threw up a Lovecraft horror story around his game (cheater, cheater!) This prototype like many of the entries was only designed as a stand-alone tech demo, which sadly meant many of its original features were cut.

From the original code-off demo to Balmung Chronicle, a lot happened to change. While I learned more and more about the engine, I feel that a level of complexity was lost in the battle system that made the original battle demo much more appealing. Trying to remedy this and a host of plot issues, I escalated the project's need for renewal and started over from the beginning. It was the summer of 2006 around the time, and while most people my age were working a job, I recall spending 8 hours a day working a little full-time job of my own. I didn't just set down tiles and slave away in the awkward database tabs, but also studied a myriad of SNES games to improve my mapping ability (most notably Treasure of the Rudras, as it was the game I was borrowing from!) In the modern community, it's hard to picture the members here and abroad taking their design to such an academic level. As the submissions chief, I've seen more than a share of aspiring new people on the scene who have seemingly never touched an SNES controller in their life. It's not very reassuring, but then again the newer generation of members will need ample time to catch up. It took several years before the Don Miguel community began experimenting with rips and tiles beyond the early REFMAP forests.

If there is one thing that Balmung managed, and thanks in part to me stealing everything from Rudra, it's graphical consistency: A pretty well-known term that has been thrown around here a lot. It's one of the many gears in a larger machine that helps a game operate outside the confines of "RPG Maker game", a rather damning title that causes much of the indie community to dismiss us entirely. While I'm not condoning or condemning the use of rips, they can seem mighty appealing today, when the vast majority of all projects utilize RTP graphics. While this is great for consistency, I think it prevents developers from really getting to know the graphics they are using inside and out, and as a result their project suffers.

Balmung's Past and Future:
That said, the game's package has really aged a bit in my opinion. Part of the reason for my long silence in development was due to the fact that I felt my skills were expanding faster than I could complete the game, and this kind of phenomenon has actually been apparent in classic titles such as The Chronicles of Haledos and Tarion Star. Were I to continue amongst that, part 2 was slated to be released as "The Symphony of the Stygian Queen", a story which took place predominantly within Asgard and detailed Hod's declining faith in the einherjar system and the fate of Elm's father Siegfried. While I did intend for it to be released in three parts, it would have been the final episode, which means sadly I would not have gotten to a point where it was revealed Loki was still among the living (gasp......)

Perhaps the story was never really meant to be told, it was far too lofty for a rather weak and shaky part 1, which reveled more in its game design and likeness to an SNES RPG than a compelling RPG narrative. At the very least, there was some sense of conclusion that I was able to leave the player on, however incomplete it may have been. One thing that I know people were very split on was the inclusion of Alrick, who I like to describe as Klarth from Tales of Phantasia minus being cool. He was meant to be a flawed character with visible weaknesses, as I felt Blitz was far too perfect and was less of a character to the story as he was an observer who was merely partaking in the happenings in the game world. For that reason, I don't think as many people were ever truly pulled in. Like Blitz, they were stuck looking through a window on the outside while a family gathered around their dinner table to discuss the day's events.

But Balmung didn't lack story. The story was clearly there, what it did lack was strong scenario direction and writing. This differs completely from the broad story, as a scenario should be written more as a day to day event that does not necessarily find itself driven by the total sum of events in your plot. It was something I didn't understand proper back then, and it is something I'd like to improve on in my future. Perhaps not with Balmung, but with something.

Consider this then, the project's final goodbye. It was very flattering to see multiple projects spring up that closely mimicked my game, a phenomenon which I've never really seen in the community before save for when Legion Saga was HUGE. For all you still working on those games, good luck! I hope your plundering of Balmung's resources will take your projects to new heights. As a special note: Our very own NicoB is working (with?) a staff of people to bring you a game that no doubt achieves the same nostalgic feelings. It's called Forever's End, and is a rather riveting tale that takes place on the northern unexplored continent of Balmung Cycle! ;)

Into the future and back to the past!:
A lot of people can argue nobody has any business working with RPG Maker 2003 in this day and age, and they're probably right. Though my mind cannot comprehend the true form of Enterbrain's intentions: RMXP lacks hardware acceleration, forcing anybody using it to be locked in a circle of hell where fires burn at 20FPS. I can only imagine this came to be when some stupid temp "accidentally" spilled coffee over the programmer's computer after he got sloppy with a harujuku girl on the hood of the intern's car. Whatever the reason, VX popped out a few years later promising to fix everything! That's right, all of RMXP's flaws fixed, for the low price of losing functionality for multiple tilesets. At last, you can make the game of your dreams as long as you resign yourself to designing another knockoff Dragon Quest clone.

Maybe I'm just bitter and disillusioned, that's a good word for my situation. But regardless of the advances and in light of the limitations of the modern Enterbrain lineup, I think I'd still prefer to take my chances with an engine that is old, but has proven itself to me time and again. No, I'm not talking about OHRRPGCE, I'm referring to RPG Maker 2003. Why, you ask? Why did Constantinople refuse to yield to the Ottomans? They were stubborn, as am I.

Fortunately, those who choose to use 2003 despite it approaching nearly 10 years of age, there's a lot of good going on. Between Easy RPG and Wolfcoder's 20XX engine, we're getting RPG_RT replacements that can modernize an engine for those who prefer to keep clicking instead of scripting. Cherry of the German community continues to release patches that expand the functionality of RPG Maker 2003, and in the coming months anybody will be able to create a custom battle system in the program with relative ease. To the script snatching members out there who can't understand why anybody would look forward to that: It's a comfort thing.

Having been in the community for nearly 11 years, I've seen it change multiple times. In the early days, RPGMaker.net flourished under the administration of RPG Making legend Rast, and then died shortly after. From the ashes came RPG2knet, Gaming Ground Zero, RPG Wolfpack, Skytower Games, RPGinfinity, and Gaming World; the last of which I think most here are familiar with. This in my opinion was really the golden age of RPG Maker, with so many different communities, the diversity really allowed for a massive exchange of ideas that is far greater than today. One by one however, these communities closed their doors to either financial issues or waning interest by its members. Today, there are still a hand full of communities, but they're much more divided in general. Perhaps it's just the age of VX, but people don't seem to be as focused and goal-oriented anymore. That is reflected sometimes in the communities themselves, many of which just happened to install a forum and call it a day. Will we be able to bring back the golden age? That's really not up to me, but to the members of this community and abroad.

So what am I working on? Well, I've been in league with the creative minds from #shmup for a while, which in popular opinion seems to be viewed as an isolationist fringe community (they'd be partially right ;) ). The notoriously elitist IRC channel #rm2k was viewed like this before it imploded in on itself, and a few of the better minds from there went on to create RPGMaker.net, so you'd better all watch yourselves..... The future of the RPG Making community will be written in blood and twilight................

This is Alrick signing off, saying "o-owow i am sooooOOo drunk!! zzzzZ"


Something Dark is Coming

Th-thump, th-thump...


Balmung downloads temporarily down

My hosting with RMN seems to have vanished with the upgrade. Since the game was stored only on this server, I'll be needing to use my other host until further notice. Bear with me for now.

Edit: This issue has been resolved thanks to a kind benefactor. Thanks Benefactor!


Misao results, future projects

I have to admit even I was surprised that Balmung snagged six of the major awards this year. While even I can't quite say with honesty that it deserved each and every one more than some of its competitors, I'm certainly happy that many people have been able to enjoy the game. It confirms much of my game design manifesto and as a result I'm looking to tackle new grounds.

As of late I've been working around with Enterbrain's latest program, Action Game Maker and am feeling something so right about the software that has been lacking since the days of RM2000. Action Game Maker sets itself apart from all other Enterbrain programs for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most exciting is the ability to program plug-ins. Even users can write their own extensions if they understand, and currently a plug-in designed to add C# scripting capabilities is even being written. Impressive, don't you think?

And so with all this I've been rather preoccupied as of late and Balmung has unfairly taken a back seat in my activities. Trying to divide my time between several final projects for school and treading new ground in AGM, I've somewhat neglected things as of late. Hopefully that won't last too long.

Finally, here is a peek at some original graphics I have been hard at work on for a platformer in development:

Yeah, I can do that kind of stuff... Somewhat!

It is a work in progress unfortunately and needs much refining still! As anybody can see the aim here is to emulate the 8bit era. I've been adhering to using the NES color palette and restricting the amount of colors that can be contained in any single tile set and I have to admit it's been a challenging yet fun experience.

Take it easy!!!


Rhetoric and Pre-production

At the moment I am making many changes to the dialogue in The Messenger and the Heretic in hopes of more clearly explaining the plot. I have always felt that something was left to be desired regarding the current spoken dialogue during cut-scenes. Though they were perfectly fine, getting the message across clearly can be tricky when you are changing your mind about the storyline every other week. By March I hope to have re-written the cut scene dialogue to be more clear and give certain flat characters a bit more personality. Like an earlier blog post I wrote mentioned, this is a mild bit of retconning right here.

Keeping up my time-honored tradition of never being able to decide upon much of anything, I have been very fickle about the production of part 2. Luckily, for the last couple months I have been quietly writing the story and characters as well as deciding upon a general theme that the plot will follow. The storyline will be considerably more complex than Messenger and the Heretic, as there are multiple factions clashing throughout the plot up until the climax. It will be up to the player to deduce the role and motives of each group and how they relate to each party member.

The development of Part 2 contrasts my main storytelling approach to Part 1, where the goal and enemy becomes apparent very early on. I've learned that taking that type of position leaves less room for surprises and constricts your story to follow a very set path. If we know where we are going, then we know what to expect every step of the way in some type of broad sense. This may sound obvious now, but the sheer amount of games that conform to this is amazing. Just take care never lay out this type of framework, you'll be glad if you avoid it. Instead, keep these words from Paul Gauguin in mind: "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?"

I believe that the substance that makes a good plot isn't certainty nor absolute mystery, but rather powerful motives or reservations that your character you want to focus on must possess. This will lead your audience to greater immersion, as things unfold fixated on your character instead of around them.


Lost Entry

RMN ate the entry that was supposed to be here. I'll get to re-writing it another time. Sorry...

- Me


Rant and Rave '09 - An inward reflection of the current community

After completing the enormous task of finishing The Messenger and the Heretic, I acknowledged that the product needed time to set in with the community before confronting the enormous task of crafting a sequel that should surpass the original. Over the past seven months Balmung Cycle has seen a fairly successful run, turning up on a couple non-rpg maker oriented pages and in websites in several different languages. In terms of such an amateur game I consider that a far greater accomplishment than I could have hoped for.

Regardless of that, I recognize there are numerous flaws that persist in the game itself. The storyline though sufficient is not Pulitzer material, lacking a strong central theme. Several systems although present, hardly received enough exposure; and then there is the matter of challenging battles that are a scarce sight in modern role playing games. I was never fully content with my final product, but then again why should anybody ever be? I then started thinking about how the rest of the user base is approaching development of their own games and how these new users reflect upon the community at large. It's not pretty, and it likely won't get better. Should any of you choose to stay on-board with the others who will ride this sinking ship to the very end, I have a few things I'd like to say.

A great mentor once told me that an artist is never satisfied with a final product, and there's wisdom in that statement. Though many of us come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, we are still artisans of a craft dismal at times. If you understand what I am saying, I'd like to issue a challenge: Never settle for what you're only capable of. Raising the personal bar in your projects and adopting professional practices is the most important striking feature that separates poor projects from the spectacular.. There are a number of conventions that even simple hobbyists should familiarize themselves with to make their projects easier to develop, and I hope to one day explain these processes in detail. For the time being simply study from the great masters of the 16-bit era, and for the love of God newcomers; stop submitting your first game projects on the front page.

By now most should be thinking "What's with this pretentious faggot, what makes him thing he can lecture ME?" A couple days ago I had been discussing the direction of a community that is becoming an increasingly niche hobby and the clear source of it.

The truth is that there's no single reason. The distribution of older programs such as RPG Maker 2000/3 has dramatically decreased in the past several years as newer more powerful development environment have emerged from the same company. Even with that in mind, the role playing genre itself is changing to accommodate the tastes of mainstream society. Turn based battles, tile restricted movement, and low-resolution pixels are all the trademarks of yesteryear; the age of HD has transformed pixels and reinvented 2d in a new light. This a great thing, but not so great for the few nostalgia-ridden enthusiasts such as myself that hold onto aging software.

Make no mistake, RPG Maker 2003 and it's earlier incarnations have gained a bad rep and currently are on their last legs. Most of us still left using these alternatives do so simply out of preference and the lack of time/willingness to learn something new when we are comfortable with what there is. RPG Maker 2003 regardless of what others may say is a powerful tool to create Super Nintendo era role playing games, and if that is the type of genre and age you wish to emulate, then why look elsewhere? There are a number of new tools that have been developed to extend the potential of this older program without having to sacrifice much on the user end, and these are things everybody should be looking into in the future. Consider using some of these following patches in your project:

- Rm2k/2k3 font changer:
The same old two fonts have become a defining staple of an RPG Maker project. However did you know that you no longer have to be confined to these? A program developed by the now widely-known cherry replaces the font that your RPG_RT.exe file points to. This means that you too can have a cool font like Balmung Cycle! However you should be well-aware that only bitmap fonts should be used and True Type fonts should be avoided at all costs!

Image Positioner:
Have you ever had to make use of many pictures on screen but never can figure the exact coordinates they should be placed at without extensive testing? The image positioner solves this by allowing you to place your image on a 320x240 grid in real-time revealing the coordinates. This is sure to save developers from countless headaches!

Power Mode 2003!:
The subject of much discussion in recent times, power mode is much like its name implies. It is rather complicated however and not recommended to new users. Some of its functions include disabling the default title screen and enabling the ability to load save data in-game, grabbing mouse pointer coordinates, detecting many additional keyboard strokes, the inclusion of new mathematical algorithms, and the mapping of picture rotation angles to variables.

Fmod plugin:
If this alone doesn't get you excited I don't know what will! Fmod extends the audio capabilities of RPG Maker, allowing you to use many additional formats such as .ogg even tracker files like .mod! Additionally, Mp3 playback is also much faster and powerful than RPG Maker's default playback is. This package is included now in Power Mode 2003.

Picture Pointer Patch:
A godsend to anybody creating custom systems, this patch applied directly to your RPG_RT.exe that allows you to call pictures from variables and file! This cuts out a heavy amount of work and allows custom systems to be finished in a fraction of the time that they used to take.

Rm2k/3 Hyper Patcher
Allows you to quickly change many values that RPG Maker locks and makes unmodifiable. There is no English translation of this program so I can't explain in detail what it does.

Auto-enter patch
Bypasses the default title screen, userful for making custom titles.

On the use of commercial and copyrighted graphics
Balmung Cycle is particularly guilty of shamelessly taking the great majority of its graphics from a single commercial source, a sacrifice made under an informed decision to maintain the project's consistency. Since the early community "rips" have had a prominent place in most projects in an effort to distinguish games from one another. It has long been a necessary evil and while the practice persists it is difficult to design a game that is uniquely you.

A slightly less-shameless approach is to mix and match until there is some semblance of unique style. This doesn't mean use Rudra and Suikoden tilesets in your game, but rather create an array of tilesets that are blended from two or more sources. Through this technique, people can identify a map designed by Meiscool simply because his alterations follow a unique set of processes that no others apply to their games. On the other hand, just about every other game designed after Ara Fell defined Mac and Blue tended to resemble BadLuck's project.

The sad truth is that most of us are no pixel artists, and that is why one graphical style tends to be overused to the point of exhaustion. Unless you fully understand what you are doing, be aware that a unique approach is necessary with popular graphics. Mix and match, color correct and adjust, add an aesthetic texture, tint, or tone to all of your graphics. If you are studying some medium of art, don't hesitate to integrate it into your project. This extra work goes the extra mile in your final product.

Time constraints and efficiency
While RPG Maker has always streamlined certain aspects of the development pipeline it has strangled other aspects. This means if the user has never developed a game before or just doesn't know about organization, the production process will slow over time! Follow stricter naming conventions for files and develop a hierarchy for your maps. Organize your map tree in a way that makes sense, such as the order in which locations are visited. Create several root folders for "World Map", "Cut Scenes", and "Custom Systems" and create embedded hierarchies for your world to organize locations such as "Northern Hemisphere." Name files appropriately and group them with a prefix such as world-mini and world-large. Use digit buffering to organize files numerically (BatAn-0001, BatAn-0002.) Comment all your events and make markers indicating a special action so you can easily find it later. There are so many little things organization-wise that are essential to keeping your project production fluid from start to finish.

I've seen some great projects suffer from poor organization and I often stop to think how much better it could have been if the creator had only paid more mind to good housekeeping. It's true in the realm of programming and it's true in the realm of visuals and design.

The problem with this community is that it's centered around "me". Play my game, review my screenshots, critique my story. Too few people have a genuine interest in what others are producing, and that's because the quality of development is so low. I can't possibly expect others to play my game if it's only 30 minutes long and consists of a premise so tired and tedious that it pushes interest away from it, that would be my fault. Try new things, and push boundaries where you aren't comfortable, because that is the only way to gain recognition in this community. Offer and accept scathing critiques, don't be afraid push the bounds of what community is. It's not about posting rosy screenshots on a forum, nor is it about seeing who can make the most successful advert thread, and it's certainly not about hyping shallow ideas of little thought or substance. It's about expressing the total sum of your creative ideas and talents to and beyond your personal best. Make the sacrifices, make the committment, and ground yourself in reality.

You have my best wishes for 2009. I've told you much of what needs to be done, so make this year better than the last.


Quote from: Ciel on January 01, 2009, 10:19:38 PM

lets have a huge debate on how best to deliver games. if you want to change the way i like my games delivered i will fight you with all my spirit. because its my right to have gtams the way i want em. youre changin g the way i get my rpg maker games info and thats unacceptable. i only take my martinis dry, my pasta el dente, my coffe black, and my fgames on forums. you could say im a bit of a games connoisseur, so dont you mess with my games or ill take you down. ill take you downtown.

ill be seein you in h.e.l.l. w.i.p.



Somebody rated my game down.

I am truly hurt by this action. Who would do such a thing and why? I- I don't think I can go on like this knowing that I failed to entertain somebody through all my hard work and guts.

What other surprises will 2009 bring??


2.0 Patch, better late than never

After much procrastination I've released the 2.0 patch that fixes several issues while adding functionality to several items. Additionally some significant plot points at the end of the game have been changed. Here is a complete list of what has been re-worked:

-Removed 5 encounters from Marmenill
-Removed 6 encounters from Forest of Noatun
-Removed 2 encounters from Sersul Heights
-Removed 1 encounter from Ginnungagap
-Fixed volley of arrows and bodkin arrows item to now utilize the correct skill
-Errors related to Odin's triumph in deep Marmenill now resolved
-Fixed game breaking error that caused a crash if a player stood on a bridge when a random battle would execute
-Added functionality for Lightning Grieves and Teddy Bear equips
-Concluding scene at the Tornica Plains cave has been changed slightly
-Ending scene has been changed to move plot in different direction

You can grab the 2.0 version on the download page. It is a full download, not a patch. I've also removed the 1.2 update patch, since I don't think anybody could possibly need it any longer. If for some reason you really need it, you can still find it archived here: http://rpgmaker.net/~magi/archives/database_fixes.rar

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