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Game Design

Development Update #6: The Phantom Pain

Hey everyone. It's Devblog time again!

It's been a while since I've posted a development update for Heroes of Legionwood, basically because I've gotten stuck right into the next installment and there isn't really a whole lot that's different on a mechanical or design level from Age of Darkness. However, there are some major changes currently underway with regards to how the next installment will be structured, which I feel are worth talking about -- most significantly that the game has slowly (over the last few months) changed from an episodic trilogy to an epic two-parter and we'll be embracing this format moving forward.

Yes, you read right: Heroes of Legionwood is doing a Metal Gear Solid V. Basically, the plan at the moment is to combine what were originally going to be Episodes 2 and 3 into a single game, roughly twice the length of the currently released Age of Darkness. In this sense, Age of Darkness is something of a standalone prologue to a deeper "main game" which expands upon the concepts and story elements introduced in the first installment. If you remember way back to my early development updates, this is in line with my original vision for Heroes of Legionwood as a series of distinct games that connect to form a larger story arc, rather than mere "episodes".

A concept, funnily enough, that is well established in the RPG genre:

There are a number of reasons why I've decided to do the next installment in this way. The first and foremost is that I feel that Age of Darkness kind of works as a game in its own right. It has a complete story arc (cleansing the Weave and laying the groundwork for removing the Darkness) and an ending that does provide closure, though obviously leaving things open for a bigger conflict yet to come. Just as I originally intended, Age of Darkness doesn't feel just feel like an "Episode 1" to something larger -- and I want the next installment of the game to also feel like its own distinct entity, not simply a DLC. If I combine Episodes 2 and 3, I can really ramp up the stakes with the larger conflict that's foreshadowed throughout Age of Darkness instead of watering it down in order to split it into two standalone games as originally intended. Ultimately, Heroes of Legionwood should feel like two separate games that just happen to combine to form a larger story, not three continuous acts artificially sliced up.

There is, of course, also the matter of the upcoming RPG Maker MV to consider, and the time that will be required to become comfortable enough with it to eventually begin working on a brand new project. According to the Dark Gaia Studios Facebook page, something a lot of people are holding out for is a mobile RPG set in the Legionwood universe, something that's actually possible in the new engine. If I can minimise the time I have to spend dealing with the logistics of releasing two games by releasing just one game instead (and believe me, a lot of the stuff I have to do around release is actually very time consuming and tedious), I'll be able to more evenly divide my time between Heroes of Legionwood and any future products that RPG Maker MV will bring to the table.

Ultimately, I just want to make Heroes of Legionwood: Age of Darkness and Heroes of Legionwood: Resurrection each a memorable experience in their own right, not just parts of a greater whole. I want this game to be less Taletale Games, and more Harebrained Schemes. If Age of Darkness is Shadowrun Returns, the next installment should be Shadowrun Dragonfall.

What do you think?


Heroes of Legionwood: Age of Darkness is on sale!

Hail, adventurers, and well met.

The day you've all some of you have been waiting for is finally here. Heroes of Legionwood: Age of Darkness, the first episode in the epic Heroes of Legionwood saga is finally available for purchase.

In Age of Darkness, you can create your character and get started on a journey that will eventually encompass three whole games - but you can also play Age of Darkness as a stand-alone game, with its own complete story arc and roughly 10 hours of non-linear gameplay.

At the end of the game, you can export your save files for use in future episodes. At this stage, the plan is to release the Heroes of Legionwood games roughly six months apart, so you can expect Episode 2 later in the year.

Age of Darkness is available from the Dark Gaia Studios website for $6.99 USD. Within the following weeks, it will be available through standard RPG Maker portals such as Aldorlea and Amaranth Games, with Desura and Steam versions available some time in June.

Happy trails!


Development Update #5: Beta Testing/Release Dates

Greetings once again, adventurers. It's been a pretty big week so far for Heroes of Legionwood. As of this Monday, Act 1 began pre-release beta testing and - save for some last minute bug fixes and additional polish - is basically done. I've also been overhauling the Dark Gaia Studios website to add Heroes of Legionwood info to it.

With that said, there is one main thing I'd like to announce in this update: the release date for Act 1 has been set, and the game will be available for digital download from June 1st, 2015. It will cost $6.99 (the $1 price increase is, unfortunately, in response to recently introduced laws in Australia mandating a tax on digital products) and will be available through my website, Steam, Desura and the usual RPG Maker portals. Overall, Act 1 contains 10+ hours of gameplay, so it's still a worthy purchase.

Since the release date has been decided and is drawing ever closer, I'm currently also in the process of finalising a playable demo for everyone to try out before the full game hits the shelves. It'll likely cover the first hour or so of the game and give you a good look at the game mechanics and dialogue features. I'm not sure when the demo will be available, but keep an eye out for it within the next two weeks.

Happy adventuring!

Game Design

Development Update #4: Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences (or, as some hardcore RPG gamers refer to it, "C&C") - the ability for a game to change in response to a player's decisions. It's something that's bandied about quite a lot among players of Western RPGs, and something that AAA studios such as Bioware, Obsidian or Bethesda tout as a core philosophy of RPG design.

It's a concept that has been in the forefront of my mind during the development of Heroes of Legionwood, and one of my main goals -- at least in regards to introducing cRPG elements into the Legionwood formula -- is to make the player feel as if their choices really count. I previously experimented with this concept in Mythos: The Beginning (and Legionwood 2 to a lesser extent, where your choices culminated in the ending you received) and I've since come to realise that meaningful choices are, logically, the core of a good role playing game; a game world that actually reacts to your character - reacts to the role you're playing.

Here's an example of one choice in Heroes of Legionwood from late in Act 1:

The party needs a Dynastland Gem to divine the location of a plot mcguffin. You have two potential ways to get one - you can plunder the nearby ruins for one, or you can steal one from the local tyrant's collection. There are several basic differences between the two options. Raiding the tyrant's house is the "easy" option, resulting in an easier boss fight and a handful of powerful Runecrafts. Plundering the ruins is the "hard" option, containing less valuable treasures, a much more complex dungeon to go through and a more difficult boss.

It sounds pretty simple, but - unknown to the player - there are actually consequences to this decision. Taking the "easy" route seems to be the obvious option, but it turns out the tyrant the party is stealing from is actually a powerful associate of a group out to destroy the party - this choice ultimately results in drawing the ire of the tyrant's allies, which will create complications later on in Act 2 when visiting the home-city of the group. Meanwhile, the "harder" option yields less immediate rewards, but prevents the player from making an enemy who will try to foil them throughout the rest of the game.

As if that's not all, the player's party is essentially torn by this decision - half of them would prefer to steal the gem, while the other half consider the ruins a "safer" option. No matter which choice you make as the player, you risk alienating your companions, potentially ruining a useful alliance or shutting off a romance. The seemingly simple decision of where to procure a gem ends up having consequences that may significantly affect the course of the game.

There are a few such decisions to make throughout Heroes of Legionwood, with the general idea that, while it's impossible for a lone developer to make something on par with Mass Effect, there are enough meaningful "big" decisions that different players will experience the game's events in significantly different ways.

How do you feel about Choices and Consequencea?

Game Design

Development Update #3: Episodic Content

So... with Heroes of Legionwood progressing at a nice rate, and release day drawing ever nearer, it's time to explain something that has been on many people's minds.

You should have noticed by now that the game's official title is Heroes of Legionwood: Act 1. It's been pretty clear from the start that Heroes of Legionwood is an episodic game, but a lot of people have asked me to clarify what, exactly, that means.

Am I asking you guys to pay for an incomplete game? Well, yes... and no. Heroes of Legionwood: Act 1 is the first installment in a three part saga. It's incomplete in the sense that -- in a similar vein to Telltale's The Walking Dead -- you won't get to see the entire story unless you take a character through all three episodes. Despite that, however, my plan is that each episode of Heroes of Legionwood will be able to stand on their own as complete adventures. For $5.99, you're getting a sizable 5-6 hour long mini-RPG, with multiple quest paths and an ending that (while not resolving the main conflict) gives you a sense of closure.

The idea is that you're free to buy any or all of the three games in the saga and still be able to feel that you've purchased a complete game. You'll be free to start in Act 1 and take your character through all three episodes, experiencing the story from beginning to end, or you can choose to start off in Act 2 with a new character, or just choose not to play any of the future episodes at all. Decisions you make in earlier episodes will carry over into subsequent ones, but if you never played the earlier episodes, you'll still be able to choose from pre-set (or randomly chosen) histories for your character.

There are at least two other commercial RPG Maker games (that I know of) that use this model: Aldorlea's Millennium and Amaranth's Aveyond 3, which are split into six and four episodes, respectively. Furthermore, you can buy each and any of the installments of these games and each one is capable of standing on its own. In this sense, Heroes of Legionwood isn't doing anything new and unheard of. The best part of doing an episodic game is that the development cycle isn't nearly as long as it would have been, which is the main reason why I've decided to release Heroes of Legionwood in this way - considering that the first two Legionwood games took nearly 3 years each to complete, releasing the entire game at once just wouldn't be viable business-wise. It's much better to release three smaller games every few months instead.

So, that's about it, really. Now you know how Heroes of Legionwood's episodic release is structured and how the three episodes interact with each other. My hope is that this will allow me to bring more Legionwood to you guys sooner and that it will give me the time and freedom to flesh out each part of the game much more than I would have otherwise had a chance to.

Keep an eye out for Heroes of Legionwood: Act 1's release details very soon.

Game Design

Development Update #2: Dialogue and Role Playing

In my last development update, I outlined some of the ways in which I'm bringing Western RPG elements into Heroes of Legionwood. One of the most important of these elements -- and one that seems to be the most contentious among some fans -- is the addition of a proper "dialogue system" to the game, and the ability to actually define the protagonist's personality, something which was (for the most part) absent in the previous two Legionwood games.

I thought I might elaborate on Heroes of Legionwood's dialogue system today. Here's an image of a "dialogue tree" in action:

The above is a typical example of a conversation in Heroes of Legionwood. You don't get a list of fully worded responses like you would in Mythos: The Beginning, or a classic cRPG like Baldur's Gate. Instead, the dialogue system in Heroes of Legionwood is modeled on the "choice wheel" that appears in Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Alpha Protocol. You don't get to choose exactly what your character says, but you can determine his/her general attitude, which will affect the outcome of the conversation. Occasionally, you get an extra option based on your character's class (hence the Magus option in the picture above), which represents knowledge that comes from your character's background.

It's important to note that, in Heroes of Legionwood, you don't create a "blank slate" character. While you get to choose Locke's gender and background, you're still playing a pre-defined character who already exists within the game world and who has their own personality. It's for this reason that I elected not to give the player fully worded dialogue choices -- Locke doesn't represent you as the player, and you're not role playing as yourself. Rather, you're guiding Locke through his/her story, and the dialogue choices evoke different facets of Locke's personality.

So, that all sounds simple enough, right? But how does this affect the game? Do these dialogue choices actually have consequences? Yes, they do. Much like in a Bioware RPG, Locke's attitude will affect his/her reputation with NPCs and party members, which in turn will subtly influence the events of the game. There aren't any "good" or "bad" choices in Heroes of Legionwood. Instead, each character you speak to will have preferred or disliked attitudes. For example, a certain character may like when you choose Snide responses, but dislike Casual ones. At the same time, you may be talking to a different NPC who hates Snide responses, but loves Casual ones. Keeping them both happy with you is a subtle balancing act. That's only if you want to keep them both happy, though; an NPC who dislikes you will also be useful in a number of ways.

The majority of this social engineering stuff comes into play when conversing with your party members during cutscenes or while resting at the party camp or an inn, but it does play a small part in your interactions with generic NPCs as well. The way you talk to a questgiver, for example, may influence or change which reward you'll receive, or open and close different paths through a questline. Ultimately, even though the morality system from Legionwood 2 is gone, Heroes of Legionwood is still just as reactive to your choices.

Progress Report

Development Update #1: New Beginnings

Hey, look at that - it's 2015 already! The holiday season is finally starting to wind down and, being all partied out, I'm buckling down to resume development on Legionwood 3.

So, what's new? The first thing you'll probably have noticed is the name change. What was called Legionwood 3 in 2014 has been reborn as Heroes of Legionwood. I've already received a couple of emails asking about the change - why has the number been removed? Is this game still a sequel to Legionwood 2? Have I decided to reboot the series?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. Allow me to explain.

Heroes of Legionwood is still very much a Legionwood game and yes, it does continue the story of the previous title, but as the core mechanics and concepts of the game have started to come together, I've noticed that it's undergoing what TV Tropes helpfully calls a Mid Development Genre Shift. The core of a Legionwood game is there (as in it's set in the same world, references the same events and locations and all of the nomenclature for spells and classes is unchanged), but where the first two Legionwood games were Final Fantasy inspired J-RPGs, Heroes of Legionwood is more of a casual cRPG that pulls from everything from D&D to Mass Effect.

There are a lot of things in Heroes of Legionwood that stray from the J-RPG structure of Legionwood and Legionwood 2. There's a day and night cycle and a need for your characters to eat and rest regularly. The stat and equipment systems have been entirely rewritten and the numbers are much smaller. There are dialogue trees during conversations, and NPCs that can react to your past choices, your class and the way your attitude towards them. It's not so much an evolution from Legionwood 2 as a reboot in terms of gameplay mechanics, and as such I don't think putting a number 3 in the game's title does it justice.

Ultimately, I've realised that Heroes of Legionwood is its own thing. This is a game that's designed to be a new beginning which takes the series in a brand new direction, but it's also a love letter for long time fans as well. I want to restore the light hearted sense of wonder and adventure that people loved in Legionwood 1 and overhauling the gameplay mechanics is just one way to do that. I want to shift away from J-RPGs into a genre more reflecting of my changing tastes since when I first discovered RPG Maker, and Heroes of Legionwood is that transition.

What would you like to see in the game?
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