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Miscellaneous

After five hundred years...

...I actually post something.

SEM has more or less been on the backburner for the last... two years? Amid a tumultuous changeover from RM2k3 to RMVXA, then getting hit with RMMV, THEN waiting for the water to settle only to find that RMMV was not going to be my holy grail of game making, legal RM2k3 still wasn't up to the less legit version's standards, and RMVXA stood in a weird place between...

Talk about a run on sentence.

Well, in any case, the end result was that I did a whole lot of waiting only to be disappointed. That, plus my motivation was at an all time low for the last two years, and I lost the same insane drive to create that I had back when this was just an RM2k3 project.

So now that the dust is settled and everything is all said and done, I'm deciding to move forward with prototyping the first 'Chapter' of the current plot outline of SEM, using RMVXA and Sacred Earth Promise's engine. This disappoints me on a deep level because SEP is not what I wanted SEM's base to be.

SEM was going to be deeper than that, but as it stands, RMVXA is getting older, and older, and eventually, I may find myself in the RM2k3 situation again. So rather than twiddle my thumbs, I'll just do what I can with what's there. Even if it's not to my dream specifications and the extra mechanics are missing.

That spiel out of the way, what HAVE I been doing anyway? Well, for now, just making sprites. Thankfully, I have a metric boatload of graphics from the years that SEM has been in the works, so all I really needed to do was polish those old sprites up to my current standard. This is what I have so far:

(Kinda impossible to see weapon trails against this BG, but heeeeey)

Most of the work is adding inbetweens, as the original sprites were pretty much just key frames. Especially in the case of Mir, whose original sprites had no transitions whatsoever. It was kind of bad, yet I was lazy and less skilled back then.

Anywho, the plan is to make all the materials I need for 'Chapter' 1, and then develop it. Once I'm finished and it's playable, I'll see how I feel about it in the end, and if it's worth going forward with. But at the very least, it's something to do to keep me busy.

I wish I knew how to program.

Progress Report

And for once...

...I'm not months late posting an update.

Of course, given the short timeframe, I don't have much tangible to show, but I'll get to that bridge when it comes. Anyway, For the month of January, I've just been focusing on written tasks. Writing out the storyline summary. Writing out character profiles for everyone. I mean...everyone. Trust me, it's about as unfun as it sounds. Which is very. Let's see, what else...Ah, I pretty much finalized the gameplay mechanics decisions for menu and battle. And then I worked on some interface designs.

This month now, I plan to work on more...tangible tasks. Setting up the battle system base, editing sprites, implementing designs, that sort of thing. I know that all comes with it's own unique brand of frustrations, but I much prefer doing something I can see play out before me, rather than writing endlessly, haha. I'm just that kind of person in the end.

Anywho, for the more visual oriented, like I am, here's a design of the battle GUI. Not implemented yet, but will probably be started on this month.



Of course, elements are subject to change at any time. They may or may not. We'll see when the time comes. I am debating whether I should leave the sprites blown up like that, or put them back to their natural size... On one hand, I like filling the screen, on the other, the blown up pixels aren't attractive.

Not many said anything about it for SEP, but I think about it still. I might go with the latter.

Next up we have some music.

https://soundcloud.com/zack-parrish/sacred-earth-memory-main-theme

And with that, I can proudly announce that Zack Parrish is on board to work on the soundtrack for SEM. He's a brilliant composer whose work I very much enjoy. He also worked on Valdis Story: Abyssal City, where you can hear plenty of good tunes from him throughout. Having him aboard will definitely enrich the game, so we're eternally grateful.

And to leave off, have some art and concepts from me. I've been drawing character concepts on and off for a while now. Some characters sorely need 2015 updates, and some characters didn't even have finalized designs for a long time. ...And some characters got completely redesigned. I don't consider myself a master, but I'm happy enough being able to accurately depict my characters the way I want them to be.

Character Design

Action Concepts

Progress Report

Several Months Later....

Whoops.

I totally forgot to post a blog update. Not like I have a whole lot to say, but doing so is apparently motivating, according to certain individuals.

Anyway, I actually haven't been doing much actual work on SEM to be honest. Real life doesn't help when you have a full time job that pretty much robs you of free time and sometimes sleep. But I try when I can.

I've made myself a development schedule for 2015 and I've managed to stick to it so far. As for what I've managed to get done so far... I've written down the entirety of SEM's story for the first time in it's development history. Before that, it's always been in my head, never recorded anywhere. But not anymore. This should give me a clearer idea of how to proceed with the story, instead of ad libbing it as I usually do.

Nearly all characters have been re-designed to have more interesting outfits. Especially characters like Gunnar. Battle and menu systems have also been re-designed somewhat, and I hope to implement those changes soon. Beyond that, I've got a mountain of character profile writing and sprite editing work to do. I am not looking forward to it at all. I hate spriting. All this prep work is frankly driving me crazy, but it must be done.

All that aside, have some tangible material to end things off.





Character Concepts


And that's all for now. I'll try and update this more regularly, and keep a proper development schedule all around, but...when has that ever happened?

Anyway, till next time!

Announcement

Jumping Ship

I thought long and hard about this. Over the course of about two weeks. Weighing the pros and the cons. I thought long and hard about what I want to do, and how I can best do it. And at the end of the day, I came to a single conclusion, after hours of seemingly endless back and forth with myself.

If I want SEM to truly have a future; it can't be on RM2k3.

That said, I've decided to make the jump to VX Ace. Using Promise as a base, I'll transfer my work on SEM to the engine. This wasn't a decision I made lightly. I really loved the work I did on the 2k3 version of SEM. The battle system in particular was my magnum opus. It was the one thing I could always be proud of. And the main reason why I refused to jump to VX Ace till now was the fact that I knew that I could never replicate the SEM battle system in the engine 1:1. I mean, sure it CAN be reproduced. But I don't have the knowledge to do it. And that always kept me away. I didn't want to throw away my work for something ultimately inferior.

But in the end, I came to the final thought that my wanting to preserve the integrity of SEM's gameplay mechanics was the exact thing that was keeping SEM from going better places. So I finally made the decision to move. I still feel bad about the fact that I won't be able to replicate it 100%, but at this point, it's better to just make a game. And make a game people can actually play. So I'm cautiously willing to let the whole mechanics issue slide in favor of Ace's overall greater features...and ability to work on recent OSes.

And as a strike against RM2k3, the sheer lag present in the engine turned me off from working in it any longer. Like I said previously, that can NOT be fixed. And I am not going to wait for it to be fixed. My motivation to work on SEM was dead for nearly half a year because of 2k3. It's time to move on.

Besides, who knows? Maybe I can learn to script(Ha ha), or otherwise get the things left behind in the 2k3 version done sometime down the line? But for now, it's time to just make the damn thing.

So all that said, where does that leave me now? Back to the starting point of converting resources into HD for Ace. Thankfully with SEP, a lot of resources were already converted. So that only leaves a few characters who weren't featured in the game to be transferred over. And then from there, it's tinkering with the battle system to address concerns expressed with SEP previously, as well as implement new additions to the system. And then the big one...those damn menus. Now I can't script, and my mechanics are too personal for any random menu script, so I will be eventing again. Thankfully working on SEP has shown me that eventing is still viable. I was worried about picture count, but it seems that Ace has a 100 picture count. So no worries there either.

Anywho, that's all from me. I'll leave the 2k3 version download up because why the hell not? In the meantime, I'll be working on the Ace version. Have a preliminary design of the main menu in parting.


Progress Report

Musing and Progress 2/13/2014

It's been a while...as usual.

I haven't actually gotten a phenomenal amount of work done, but I'm getting back into the groove of things. With the technical side of things out of the way, I've just been left to work on story segments. ...And boy, there's a lot of them.

SEM, by this point, is essentially a glorified visual novel with RPG mechanics to break up the story segments. You'll be seeing a lot of character faces talking against backgrounds with each other about themselves and the world around them, and the plot points. More than the battles and symbol maps I wager.

I worry that the game might bore the contemporary RPG player, but I also realize that the point of a visual novel is to....read. So as it is, it's not entirely possible to keep said contemporary RPG players hooked if they're the impatient types that just want to kill stuff and run along maps. The latter, which simply does not exist in this game anymore.

I know that I'll kill myself if I try to reel in that type of player. So really, all I can do, and care to do by now, is to tell the story in the format I have set up. I've probably mentioned this a lot by now, but the lack of walk-able maps and obstacles, which were cut from the project ultimately, will likely forever haunt me.

I can definitely say that the scope creep snuck up on me with this project. But rather than fight to try and make the next big PS1 inspired hit with all the usual JRPG bells and whistles, it's more logical to make concessions in order to properly handle the current scope. I still don't intend for this game to be something ridiculous like 40+ hours or something. But the story's scale has certainly grown from the original SEB, which was so much simpler in intention and presentation.

...And yet also it was terribly executed. But that's beyond the point.

Enough of that though. I guess I should talk of my progress. It's nothing I really can convey visually I think. There's only so many screenshots you can look at of characters talking on backgrounds before you get the point. That's probably the drawback to it. But I hope I can make up for it with entertaining writing and characters.

That said, I suppose a few of those aforementioned screenshots wouldn't hurt anyway.






Okay, that's it from me. Once I finish up a few more scenes, it's off to make the next symbol map dungeon and the events within.

Till next time.

Progress Report

Progressing Onwards

Somehow, in the midst of being eaten by irl, I've been managing to get work done on SEM. Especially recently. Thankfully I've managed to clear away all of the bothersome menu work. But while doing so, I also made some minor changes as well.

Caith's presence has been added to all the growth systems and menus. So that's finally out of the way. Re-arranging things to make room for her was a pain, but I managed to push down my irritation and finally just do it. It took almost a year of procrastination and slowly chipping at the wall to get to this point though. I feel that maybe I shouldn't gotten here sooner, but alas. Motivation is a fickle thing.

Secondly, some changes have been made to the Advancement System. The menu where skills and abilities are learned. Specifically in terms of learning spells. Before, all characters had ten spells, but only five Ether Ranks. Which meant they'd end up with any combination of those ten spells by their choice.

Well now, I've changed it so that the player will need to learn every spell in every tier in order before they can proceed to the next Ether Rank. So now, Gunnar will need to learn Thunderbolt and Shade Imperial before his Ether Rank progresses to 1 from 0. That way, more advanced spells are kept away a bit longer and earlier spells will be available to use.

The main point of this change is that you will never end up potentially missing an element you may find yourself needing down the line.

And that's pretty much all. This update's been entirely about the boring coding side of things, so I don't really have anything to share there. But with all of this crap out of the way, I can finally get to work on the story again. The menus and walls of code are finally out of my way as far as I can tell!

But let me throw this in.



It's a more modern(but drawn a while ago) rendition of Patchoulli's SEM design.

And with that, I bid adieu~

Progress Report

Of Menus and Battles

It's been a while.

I've been slowly whittling away at this whenever I can between life and other responsibilities. Not a whole lot I can manage in the time I get left, but I've been gradually making strides. I'm posting today to share some of the work done. Though not all of it I can show.

First up, I've finished all of Caith's combat abilities finally. Which means that all of the battle system related tasks on the player's side are finally finished. I no longer need to touch their skill code ever again.

THANK THE LORD.

Secondly, I decided to axe the combo chain bonus revision to the battle system. Why? Well...I actually implemented it at first. But then when I actually tested it, I discovered that it was WAY TOO POWERFUL. The player would hit 999999 Damage recorded on the counter, with the actual damage being even higher than that, in just one Sacred Will. ...Which was mildly distressing. So suffice to say, I did not think that system through nearly as well as I thought I had. It broke everything. Not in terms of coding, but in terms of balance. So I reverted all the code I had changed and decided to keep things as they are now.

So now Strike Chains get no damage bonus from the current combo chain system. But Ether Spells and Bursts do. Combo Chain will be retained from character to character and you can try to build up a high combo to then use as a damage bonus to your spells and abilities. That's it. Chains build it up, Ether/Burst uses it. And it retains till an enemy acts. Simple.

Lastly, I've begun work on implementing Caith into the menus. So far I managed to work her into the main menu. That was interesting as I basically need to made additions to all my code, considering that the menu was originally build for 4...and then 6....and then 7...and finally 8. Once I finish including her into all the menus, I can finally say I'm finished with all the technical nonsense and I can go back to working on story and gameplay segments and continue from where I left the game at Day 4. Which was quite a cliffhanger really.



Here's a screenshot of the main menu with Caith included. Characters 6 and 7 are blocked out because...well I've never mentioned them ever. You'll find out who they are in game.

Progress Report

Been a while

Thankfully I said 'try' and not 'definitely' last time. = v =)a;;

Anyway, work on SEM has been slow because of real life, and other things. Especially real life, but I won't touch on that. Notably other groups have been stealing my attention on top of a recent drawing binge for the sake of self improvement. It's actually been my dream to be able to draw my own game resources. Be it dialogue portraits, concept art, cut-ins, event scenes, and all that good stuff. That's pretty much the sole reason why I draw. But I'm never satisfied unfortunately. I never feel good enough to be able to say to myself "I don't need to recruit outside for this, I can do it.". So the long road continues.

Mind you, I love working with other talent. Seeing everyone's work come together in playable form is certainly a treat for all involved, but there's something that's just attractive about being able to perform in every necessary field yourself. My main inspirations for this mindset initially came from ZUN, of Touhou fame. Then later on, Konjak, who created Noitu Love 2, Legend of Princess, and currently The Iconoclasts. Another big inspiration to this mindset that's a little closer to my level is Neok. He created Alter Aila/Genesis/Variant, Wraith/Sainth, and other projects primarily as a one man army with a good degree of custom material. That's pretty inspiring.

And I want to do that. But maybe I'm just being a grouchy loner. Nevertheless it doesn't hurt to be able to dabble in a lot of different areas, even if you have someone else doing it primarily.

Creative ranting aside, I have gotten a little work done. The battle system is still undergoing changes to the Combo Chain mechanic, which I detailed last entry. I'm also working on a new sprite set for Veili. Admittedly, Veili is the character I pay the least attention to. And that's not right because she's just as important as anyone else. So to start, her battle sprites are currently being upgraded.

Here's some progress:


Beyond graphics, I've been rethinking my approach to field progression...AGAIN. Because as the time passed since my last entry, I come to realize; why am I making this game? I'm making it because I want to incorporate ideas that I enjoy and find fun. ME primarily. And while I can be wrong at times, and there is room for improvement. I will not and should not sway to massive system changes under the criticism of the masses. I've seen a friend of mine fall victim to this, and in the end, his enthusiasm for the project was ruined because his vision was compromised.

Criticism is important of course. It's BECAUSE I got feedback and criticism that SEM's gameplay has improved to this point. But that's exactly the point. If there's a problem, IMPROVE it, don't shelve everything and set development back by another century with a sweeping change to an important area of the game. If it's not fun, make it fun. If it's flawed, fix the flaws. That's what should be done. ...And besides, I've been on this project for an unhealthy amount of time. Even now, the game isn't planned to be that long. But I've been stuck in development hell just standardizing everything and moving on.

All that said, it's been decided that I WILL be keeping symbol maps. BUT, I will be striving to make improvements to the details of the system to make it easier for the player to approach. One such improvement will be the displaying of stats when it comes to Trap Tiles. Before, you needed to memorize your stats and take a guess on whether or not to attempt a dodge or spend TP to nullify. This time, the aggregate total of your active party's stat will be displayed for easier decision making. Another improvement will be an icon legend, easily accessible while traversing the nodes, for the player to reference what does what.

It's the only logical step I can think of. Between spriting, edits to the combat system and tutorial explanations based on feedback, and work remaining to be done on the menu system to accommodate character #8, I find that making a massive change to the field gameplay is a huge mistake. And I won't abide it.

I want to tell the story of SEM in full some day. I won't give up until it's told. Until people can put their fingers on the keyboard and experience the struggles of Gunnar and his friends. This needs to happen no matter what I have to do to make it so. Even if, in the end, I know it won't be a massive blip on the indie radar. Or even a blip at all.

That's not my promise to you.

It's my promise to myself.

And with that, I bid you all adieu. Till next time!

Game Design

Design Musings and Inquiries...mostly Musings.

Right, so...

I haven't been able to work on this as much as I'd like due to everything life has had to throw at me. But all the time, I've been thinking about where to go next with the project. The story itself is all decided, so I'm not at any sort of conundrum there. The problem lies in the gameplay design itself.

Which brings me here, writing a meandering blog entry about it.

Battle Accessibility

First and foremost; the issue of battle accessibility. According to multiple accounts, the battle system is too confusing, having everything piled on all at once. I tried to remedy this initially by locking out certain battle features till certain points, such as the first boss battle, or the beginning of the second dungeon. But there needs to be more done on that account.

Which is why I've devised my next solution; The Vanguard Handbook.

It's essentially a custom menu filled with image tutorials that the player can access explaining all the tiny, basic nuances of the battle system all the way up to key features such as Chains, Burst, Spells, Command Skills, Link Arts, etc. It sounds simple in theory, but I'm actually kind of dreading it due to the volume of information and imagery that needs to be divided up into sections to be explained.

But the alternative is even worse; and that's no one understanding the system. I don't plan to hold people's hands and tell them everything they need to do. But at the very least, people need to know what they're doing at the basic level, right?

Right.

Besides, if people can understand games like Mana Khemia and Record of Agarest War 2, then there's no reason why SEM would be any different. But it's my job to explain the basics, again.

Does this sort of thing sound like it would work? I'm not going to force players into elaborate tutorials, but let them know that they can access more in depth information later on.

Okay, moving on.

Field Interaction

I'm going to be frank; I'm thinking about making dungeons walkable areas again instead of the pseudo-tabletop system it happens to be right now. But that's about as far as it goes.

The Symbol Map system was an amalgamation of ideas derived from Riviera: The Promised Land, and Record of Agarest War 2. You progress through a grid of nodes corresponding to battle, traps, rewards, and events. And all the while, the player spent TP in order to make it easier to progress at the their leisure.

This system also existed for one express purpose; to circumvent mapping. Not because I'm bad at mapping, I'm no faroz_flare, but I think I can manage to make areas look interesting enough. But rather; because I don't think I can make areas mechanically engaging. What's the point of walking through a 'dungeon' where the only obstacle is choosing the right way to go? Sounds pretty boring, right?

Well couple that with my meager puzzle design capabilities, and you can see why I chose the Symbol Map system.

But again; I am considering reverting for a few reasons and with a few catches. Reasons being that Symbol Maps simply aren't mechanically engaging. I personally think they're just engaging enough, but apparently I'm the minority. But I don't want SEM to be boring in an important aspect such as field interaction; which is my conundrum.

Now, catches to reverting back to maps would be that dungeons simply would not be as large as they were in my previous efforts where they spanned 40+ winding maps. Instead, that number would be cut by at least half or more. Secondly, I wouldn't be trying to wrack my brain trying to come up with obstacles on the level of Golden Sun. Because I just can't do that. I have dreams, but I know my limits as well. Of course there would be simple roadblocks to contend with, but nothing crazy like refracting light off of mirrors or something equally as absurd.

Basically it will all be scaled down to a point where it's manageable. But I worry dungeons would be shorter for it. Which brings things right back around to map numbers.

Okay I'm just rambling incoherently now, so I'll leave this section as it is and end with a question.

How do you feel about the Symbol Map System? Does it work? Is it acceptable? Or would walkable dungeons be better, despite the intended downsizing of scale?

Other Stuff

Beware technical jargon rambling ahead.

Currently there are eight playable characters. That number won't change and I still need to complete work on the 8th. But while that work is stalled, I've been thinking about how to better balance the battle system and change the damage emphasis between various mechanics.

As it is right now, Chains are the weakest skills, Ether Spells are next in level of strength, and then Burst skills are the highest. Now logically the progression of usage should go Chains/Ether Spells --> Burst Skill when available. However I've noticed that in most playthroughs I've seen, it's been Chains --> Chains --> Chains --> Occasional Ether Spell.

This is kind of off putting really as players are wasting their time using the weakest forms of damage available to them over and over. Why is this the case? The cynical part of me simply wants to say that it's the case because 'Chains look cool!', but there must be a deeper reasoning that even the player doesn't seem to realize. Eventually I did come to a reasonable and logical conclusion. And a simple one.

The Combo Chain count.

This system rewards building large combos by adding the hit count of the combo directly to the damage being done. Thus, damage escalates rather quickly, especially when characters act back to back. This system also applies to Ether and Burst skills, but it's more readily accessible if one simply uses Chains back to back.

So I thought of a solution to this issue; amend the combo chain system to boost the reward of using Ether and Burst skills in relation to Chains. How to do that? Simple. When using an Ether or Burst skill, take a percentage of the total damage count of the current combo and add it to the damage of the skill being used. For Ether Spells, it's 25%. For Burst Skills, it's 50%, and for EX Limits, Link Arts, SW, it'll be 100%.

I think this is a pretty logical evolution to the system and one that rewards timing and planning your actions rather than acting all willy nilly, only to find yourself interrupted by the enemy and your combo count lost.

And that's about all I have to say on this front.




...Wow. Look at all that rambling. Better leave off with a visual to make up for it.

Have this. It's a design for Patchoulli that I drew long after SEM got well underway. Safe to say it won't be used in this project.

Miscellaneous

So...

Well, I seem to have taken a rather epic and massive dive under the radar after my painfully brief RSW opening.

So I figure I'd come out of my cave and address the issue. Is there some reason why the feedback's dried up so quickly? I notice my DL count's slowed to a crawl as well. So maybe RMN can give me some insight on the matter. Is it the engine? The way in which the game has been compiled? Or is it the game itself?

If you haven't played the game yet, then let me ask; what's preventing you from doing so? If you have played the game, then I ask; why no feedback? Even a short anecdote of what you liked and disliked during a brief stint of play time would be helpful.

Now I'm not asking to be popular. In fact I'm quite comfortable where I am, working in the shade as I have been, but generally, one cannot make great strides of improvement without varied opinions to reference from. And that is what I am currently lacking.

So RMN, help me out. Tell me what's wrong, if you would please?
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