0 reviews
  • Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

Progress Report

As Easter approaches....

...it's time to breathe some new life into this project!

To start with, I've successfully managed to draft my friend RomanoAmerio (who is also working on "The Castle of the Blue Moon" with me) into helping me improve this project! The two of us have been hacking away at the script with a red pencil of doom, and the effects have been overwhelmingly positive.

Also, I've actually managed to get just a wee bit better at mapping. Practice makes perfect, and all that.

We also decided the whole thing was too unwieldy to cram into a single file, so we've split it into 6 episodes of around 3-5 hours' duration each. Leveling up is pretty much static for each episode, so each of them will be a self-contained unit.

Finally, we've managed to get rid of the whole "this sounds too much like a newspaper headline" factor that was plaguing the earlier version of this game.

Now, it's time for us to deliver the goods!

Progress Report

Thank you, Pope Francis...

...for helping me revamp this game entirely, even if only in spirit.

It's now "The Endless Road".

Check the main page for more details. The new character sheet is under construction.


Thank you, Unca Donald!

So I'm doing this again! To quote Karsh from Chrono Cross: "OH YEAH! Bring it on!"

And why, you might ask, have I changed my mind?

Well, for two reasons:

First, I've managed to retrieve some of the old game data and have now got RPG Maker XP installed on a much more stable machine, complete with regular backups. This means that development can proceed unimpeded, subject only to the laziness time constraints of the developer.

And second, one of my original reasons for putting the game on hold was that parts of it seemed like a corny commentary on current world affairs. With things happening rapidly all over the world, including the recent U.S. Presidential election, that is no longer the case, and the original plot now has much more room to breathe. (Well, at least for the next 4-5 years; and if I haven't finished the game by then, I guess I can be presumed legally deceased. ^_^)

It's a bit funny to credit Donald J. Trump with the resurrection of one guy's RPG, but I guess that's how things roll sometimes.

So thank you, Unca Donald,
Rodney (who would probably vote for ya!)
Emily (whose dad would also have done the same!)
and Maruk, our latest player character.

Have a great day! =)

Progress Report

Goodbye for now.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I guess the time has come...

I've been working on The Year of the Cat for around a year and a half, on and off. During this time, I had a clear idea about the story I wanted to tell, the characters who would inhibit my game world, and the different paths that they would take. None of that has changed.

Unfortunately, stuff happens sometimes. I began creating Cat in the RPG Maker XP engine, but the laptop on which I had installed it (and which also contained all the game data) gave up the ghost in the middle of 2015. Undeterred, I began working on the game afresh, using a new computer and RPG Maker VX. The new version of the game had stronger characterization, better maps, and better plot-lines for the different political factions involved.

Unfortunately, Murphy's Law struck again, and for reasons that are still unclear to me, the game project file has been corrupted and is now unusable.

I suppose I could pull an Isaac Newton and start from scratch (a third time!) but there is a further, if small, additional reason why I won't be doing it.

When I began The Year of the Cat, I created a world which, while entirely fictional, was inspired by events and currents of thought in the world of 2013. Using my imagination as well as my common sense, I made certain extrapolations (I won't call them predictions, because they involved a fictional world) about how things would play out. Unfortunately, reality outstripped even my fevered imagination. If I were to proceed with the original plot of Cat as it was written in 2013-14, it would sound like a corny parody of current world affairs. And there is nothing more boring than a "topical" game, even if this occurs unintentionally. I suppose I could rework the story significantly, but that would take time, and at this moment (for various reasons) that particular resource isn't readily available.

To those who subscribed and were looking forward to this game: sorry, and thank you. I will certainly return to this story someday. Just not in the next year or so.

Progress Report

When your development cycle is lagging...

...you might as well put up some screenshots.

I'm quite happy with the way the plot is shaping up so far:

Waldemar gets a message from an unexpected source. He's quite the ladies' man. =)

"Araminta" is quite a nice name. I wonder if she's related to Mint from A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky?

Paul Erdos once said a mathematician was a device for converting coffee into theorems. I guess a monk is a device for converting mathematics into theology. (This screenshot is dedicated to the lovely Mrs. Q!)

A fearless young girl takes on the slimes!

Admiral Styles would be proud of me. =)

Do the crime, serve hard time. Except if the kindly RPG author decides to bust you out....

This one is dedicated to my father, who actually writes like this when he feels like it. ^_^

Scalzi has a neat palace. Pity about his soldiers' uniforms, though.

High Priest Joseph Taylor* has a question for Prime Minister Otranto.

Emily tries some psychological warfare...

* His name is a very obscure bilingual joke.

Game Design

Democratic RPGs?

Classical, "fantasy" RPGs invariably involve a kingdom or an empire of some sort. These come in a variety of flavours, but for simplicity's sake, I'll boil them down to three:

Distressed: The Kingdom is under overwhelming attack from a great evil - human, demonic, or otherwise. The hero and his allies have to save the Kingdom.

Good: The Kingdom is the hero's homeland, and his base for various adventures against other, not-so-good political entities.

Evil: There is an oppressive Kingdom or Empire, usually ruled by a monarch with delusions of grandeur - or one who is the puppet of darker, more evil forces. The hero's quest is to liberate his people from the yoke of the Evil Empire.

With these three basic "types", there are a variety of permutations possible. For example, a hero from Good Kingdom A is summoned by Distressed Kingdom B to ward off the attacks of Evil Empire C. While he is doing so, Evil Empire C attacks Kingdom B, abducting or slaughtering the hero's family or loved ones - and so forth.

Beyond this simplistic framework lie other, more complex, plot options:

Internal dissent: The action takes place in Kingdom A, which is being contested by rival factions X, Y and Z, either of which may be good, evil or neutral. The hero has to ensure the success of his faction.

International warfare: Kingdoms A, B and C are at war. Neither is painted as particularly evil - the citizens of each view themselves as patriots who are only claiming their due, asserting their rights, retaliating against unjust aggression, and so on.

Why are such plots so popular in the RPG world?

Part of this arises from the literary pedigree of the RPG, which has its ancestry in the literary genre of fantasy. By definition, fantasy novels take place in a quasi-medieval setting, and the monarchic and feudal settings are part of that package. Also, a lot of the traditional RPG tropes - knights, princesses, dragons, wicked kings - simply do not work outside a monarchic framework.

A second reason is that kingdoms are simpler to handle - both in terms of writing and coding - than the world we live in, which is composed mainly of democratic nation-states. Interactions between these entities tend to be far more complex, subtle and nuanced, with very few clear "good guys" or "villains", and innumerable shades of grey. Warfare between these entities tends to involve technology and teamwork rather than individual acts of heroism, and diplomacy and espionage also play major roles. This can be fascinating, but it can also be hard to embody in an RPG which - after all - has to be playable and not just readable. Done poorly, it can be - to put it bluntly - boring.

And yet there is more than enough material in modern society to construct a thrilling game, though the action may be more puzzle- or character-based and less focused on boss battles. Can a good RPG be set in a world like ours? Or would it stop being an RPG and become more of a stealth-based strategy game?

I believe it can be done; whether I'm up to the task, however, I leave to the gentle reader (and player) to decide, once I've finished. =)

Game Design

Relationship values - It takes two.

(Minor spoilers for "Romancing Walker", "Love and War" and "The Way" herein.)

How do you build a relationship - a friendship, a mentoring relationship, or even a romance - throughout the course of a computer game?

One approach is simply to tell the story passively:

Mr. X: There. I've defeated Minion A. Now to move on to the big boss.
The lovely Miss Y: Oh, Mr. X, I adore you! Be my Valentine!
Mr. X: Heh heh, I'm da boombastic love-machine!

When done well, this can work. Take a game like Cave Story. When Quote and Curly first meet, they appear to be enemies - but as the game progresses, they uncover their shared past, and re-affirm the comradeship they once shared. This is done without a single player "relationship input" (granted, you have to take steps to save Curly during one battle, which are far from obvious), but it works because (a) they aren't particularly deep characters, and (b) they make a good fighting team.

When done badly, you'll have the audience grumbling about how romance is for middle-aged women and not macho gamers. You'll also probably hear that the author must have been smoking weed / reading Stephenie Meyer / watching too much Titanic, and so forth.

Another method - beloved of dating sims, and of RPGs with dating sim elements (hello, Romancing Walker and Love and War!) - is to present the hero with dialogue or puzzle options which can either make or break his relationship with the female cast. For example, if Ryle of Romancing Walker chooses to say goodbye to Orubia in a dismissive manner, he loses the chance to gain "relationship points"; if he's gentle, he gains points. Similarly, if Ryan of Love and War is nice to Lavie or Marianne, this (presumably) goes towards building up their relationship in future episodes. This approach works well because it leaves matters in the hands of the player (who may prefer Orubia or Fina, Lavie or Marianne) rather than having the author dictate terms about which "ship" he prefers.

However, there is an element of verisimilitude lacking even here, because - as anyone who's been in a real-life relationship knows - relationships are built from reciprocal interactions. If you're giving the lovely Miss Y a gift, Miss Y has to accept and like your gift; if she doesn't like the perfume you bought, you're not going to score any points in real life. Admittedly, a "realistic" relationship model in a game is harder to pull off than simple "scoring", but it's feasible (Facade, and arguably Katawa Shoujo.)

The Way takes an interesting approach in one of its endings. This ending gives you the opportunity to "hook up" with one of the main female characters, but its success depends on two things. First, your relationship points with the character in question (so far, nothing new), and second, a score that reflects how ethically you've behaved in the game so far. If you've been acting like a heel, sorry - no girl for you. This is clever, because it reflects the truth that to hook up with the right person, one must - to paraphrase a quote from a Lun Calsari interview - also try to be the right person.

While I salute all these approaches, what I have in mind for The Year of the Cat is a little different.

Without going into spoilers, there are two characters - let's call them A and B - who have a shared past. A and B can "end up together" in one of the game's planned endings: however, the "relationship score" that determines this is influenced by the actions of both A and B, who are both playable. In other words, A and B both have to make certain choices, or behave in certain ways, if the relationship is to work. (I'm not sure if this is ultra-simplistic or profound, but it's what I'm going with.)

For another character, C, relationship values in The Year of the Cat work this way. C can, early on in the game, make a choice that forces the story on to one of two paths. However, even after embarking on that second path, the actions of A, B and D - taken together - can possibly change C's mind. There's a bit of a moral here - sometimes a man goes from bad to worse because no one tried a little kindness - but C's free will is not overridden. C can still choose to remain on this path; it's merely that C is given the option of second thoughts.

There are, of course, many other ways in which relationship points can be calculated and used to add to the mimesis of a computer game, but I'll stop here.

As Pope Francis would probably say, it takes two to tango.

Progress Report

Sympathy for the devil....and clearing the decks.

How sympathetic should you make your villains?

Let me be the first to acknowledge that this is a difficult question. Unless your villain is a world-destroying demon, or some other personification of evil, most "enemy" characters are likely to be humans - with their own hangups, motivations, and ideologies. Given this, it's terribly easy for one man's villain to be another man's cool anti-hero - witness the idolatry of a certain obnoxious young Harry Potter character by some sections of that particular fandom.

This becomes all the more difficult when you're telling a story of history and politics, where realism is important, and your characters can't be cardboard cutouts. If I were to ask you if, say, Margaret Thatcher or Mikhail Gorbachev was a "villain", your answer would depend largely on your own culture, belief system and nationality.

So how does one create a Thatcher or a Gorbachev in a fictional world?

It's not easy, but I'm trying. At the end of the day, though some of my characters behave in reprehensible ways, none of them are irredeemably evil, and it is possible to feel some sympathy for any of them. What you feel (or fail to feel) depends not only on them, but on you and me. Take Victor Otranto, a political leader in my story. He has good motives, but he also is party to some horrendous deeds (though how horrendous you consider them depends on your position on the political spectrum). Is he a villain? I wouldn't go so far as saying that, but neither do I want him idolized and seen as "a nice guy who's just misunderstood".

In the meantime, if you're in the mood to kill several hours, here's my first full-length work of fiction in over 16 years. It's a crossover pile-up between The Way, Romancing Walker and Love and War, but it's set largely in the latter universe, and having played LAW will certainly enhance your enjoyment thereof. It's missing a few chapters, but I'm putting it out there before it gathers too much dust on my laptop.


Next update: how the intro to The Year of the Cat took shape.


A tale of two cats.

(General reflections about the game and its inspiration below.)

Coming to think of it, "The Year of the Cats" would have been a better title, though a less poetic one.

The "cat" of the title has a variety of meanings, but it broadly refers to two men: Otranto, the elected Prime Minister of Alderia, and Scalzi, the military dictator of the Republic. Why are they cats? Well, that's a long story, but part of it is that they aren't dogs, monkeys, or chimpanzees.


Who am I kidding?


Actually, this game began life as a "my first game" sort of project. I needed something other than the default RPG Maker XP title screen to look at, so I looked around on my hard drive, and I found one of my all-time favourite images: a still of Miss Minchin, from World Masterpiece Theater's Princess Sarah, giving the school cat a vicious kick when in a particularly bad mood. This image was satisfying on two levels. At a baser level, it speaks to our inner sense of schadenfreude: seeing someone or something else getting kicked is, in a way, funny (this is the principle on which Tom and Jerry, whose appeal is timeless, operates.) At a more "exalted" (ahem) level, the scene is a foreshadowing of what will happen later in the story, when Miss Minchin ends up utterly crushed and the cat gets its revenge by scratching her. What goes around comes around, as Lenny Kravitz once sang.

In fact, the first working title was "Kick The Cat", but that didn't quite have the gravitas I was looking for.

None of the playable characters is a cat, though one of them can have a cat as a pet if she looks around a little. However, the two "heroes" (protagonists would probably be a better word: the player has the choice to make them heroes, villains, or something in between) can both take a shot at assassinating one of the titular cats near the end of the game. Should they do it? A lot of the game, including the ending, hangs on this question.

There are five possible endings, and I don't think I'll add any more right now. Why five? Well, The Way, which I revere, had three (or four if you count the two versions of the "normal" ending), and five is the next prime number after three.

The names of the characters also have their own stories:

Waldemar gets his name because it sounds like Vladimir. (I'm a fan of Vladimir Kramnik, the chess player.)
Rodney gets his name (though not his personality) from a forgotten classic of English literature, Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott.
Emily gets her name because, well, I like the name. (Also, "A Blurred Line".)
And Crescent gets her name from a forgotten minor classic of American children's fiction, Cress Delahanty (Cress is short for Crescent) by Jessamyn West.

From such exalted beginnings to some newbie's RPG. How are the mighty fallen!
Pages: 1