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Game Design

How Spirits Work: Documentation

Brief updates: I (pentagonbuddy here) am back from a vacation across the country! But you won't see any updates to the game until after October, since that's when the IGMC ends. We can't exactly release an expanded version before the contest is over! That being said, we're still working on this, although I have another project I'm committed to finishing. (Any Demon Slayer subs reading this, sORRY...NOT THAT ONE...) I'm sure both of us will talk about plans/progress on updating old levels and working on new levels.

One thing we both want to talk about it just the way that we made this game. I'm an advocate for open development -- just telling people how we did something and maybe inspiring them for their own games. So here's the start of a series of posts about How Stuff Works. The beginning of any game is not, in fact, in the game editor, and there's prep work that happens outside of it.

Documentation is important. That’s nothing new. For Free Spirits, we ended up with quite the pile of files, and I’m taking a moment to tell you some things about the main one. This document is currently 16 pages and 5566 words -- it was our guiding light for the first few weeks of development.

Our guiding, mint green light. (the mint is easier on the eyes than white!)

Eventually, we got far enough in development that pausing to update the design document was kind of a hassle, and we had more specific documents to record information that we needed to keep track of. When we first started, however, there were some core ideas that shaped the whole game:
  • We were interested in a combat system that was overall non-violent
  • We wanted an emphasis on family and chosen relationships
  • We wanted a fairly simple set of gameplay mechanics

From this came the weird visual novel/rpg hybrid that is Free Spirits! These ideas were never formally written down (until now), but Em and I talked about these things and just… kept them in mind at all times.

It was surreal when we thought about it and realized we had an RPG that didn’t really need stats or equipment or levels, due to how short it was and how the combat hinged on progressing through choice branches instead of thinking about damage output.

There was A LOT that was cut/changed/modified. An original draft idea was Lana using baked goods as part of her skills, complete with a magical portable oven for on-the-fly baking.

Once we had the general idea of how encounters worked, we had to think of ghosts to use for them. These were the questions pretty much every ghost started with:
  • We’d want to know at least a name and cause of death
  • Do they know they’re dead?
  • What is it that keeps them around?
  • Trying to work in the concept of “growth” in some way.

There were even unused ghost ideas! One example:

"Rich person who ate a bad batch of caviar and got food poisoning. They do realize they’re dead after a while, but demand tributes to make their passage to the afterlife more comfortable"

There's also things like sprite/portrait poses we thought about and I didn't get the time to draw:

  • Walk cycle (4 direction)
  • Crossing arms and shaking head
  • “NYEH”
  • A weird laugh

It’s nice knowing we have the time to add in the ever-important “SVETA FOCUS” emote.

a good approximation

The main design document (THE DOC OF DESIGN as google docs knows it) was not the only bit of documentation. There's separate files for a skill/item list, many separate files for various dialogue, a file of potential resources we could use (such as links to graphics and scripts), and a calendar spreadsheet we used as a schedule. We totally didn't stay 100% on schedule, but the purpose of all of this was to keep us on task and focused on what we were doing... as well as when we wanted it done by.

Probably the most important documents outside the game editor, aside from the dialogue scripts, were the flowcharts. Those formed the backbone of each encounter...which is something I'll leave for Em to talk about!

Here's the main takeaway: write stuff down! Plan ahead! Seriously. Even if it's a jumbled mess, just getting your thoughts out there can help you develop them. I know it's game dev 101, but here's an example of why it works. Sure, there's lots of em and I trashing up our own design doc with things like "lana doesn’t get a radio until 2067", but having a main design doc to write down our ideas got us to refine them from absolute trash into pretty great trash.

Progress Report

Developin' Makes Me Feel Good

Hey there, folks! Here’s a wee update from your pal Emmych!

So it’s officially been one week since Penta and I submitted the game to the IGMC. Guess how long it took us to start working on it again? If you guessed “a few days,” you would be right (although I am still very snoozly, and hopping back into the editor has been a groggy process).

On my end, I’ve started a playthrough of the game and hunting down places I’d like to edit dialogue or fill in any gaps. Aside from Beckett’s encounter, I’d say things are pretty swell and only need a smidge of smoothing. I’ve also been recording footage while doing this, since ooooh are we ever planning on a nifty trailer for you all.

Penta’s been reorganizing the database so it’s a little cleaner! And when I say a little, I mean a lot. Seriously, it’s so beautiful in there now (and super ready for future work, hon hon hon~). They’ve also given some NPCs that didn’t have portraits faces! They look real nice.

Check out these HANDSOME MEN

Other than that, there were a few things we cut for the final IGMC version to shave down the total play time that have been restored! This includes cute things like Beckett getting super scared and hiding in a booze bottle, as well as some flavour text and narration. It… also fixes a few non-game breaking bugs that were found in the IGMC release, so hey! That’s good!

We’ve also been plotting future encounters! The current plan involves at least 6 more cases in addition to the current 4, and they’ll all be about the same length as the current ones (albeit with a little more added depth in the realms of flavour text and NPC chatter). There’s gonna be some cool new concepts added in, like guest star party members and encounters with more than one spirit, which’ll change gameplay up quite a bit! I’m real excited to show you folks more, since aaaah how interesting. <3

Before I leave, take a look at this before and after look at the list of common events. SERIOUSLY PENTA IS A WIZARD thank u for cleaning so I didn’t have to. ;>

Progress Report

Future Spirits

So the contest is over, now what?

Emmych and I have been taking a break! A much needed one. There’s tentative plans to get back to working on this by next week, though I (Pentagonbuddy here) will have another project I’m working on as well. (Hopefully I get that one out in upcoming months, too!)

Step 1 of future Free Spirits Stuff is polishing up the contest version! Maca has kindly offered to translate the game into Spanish...but we’d love to give her something that’s had some editing! The contest version was written on a tight deadline, and we know there’s spots to improve.

Besides that, changes to the contest version will include general polish to art, writing, gameplay… Whatever we feel could use it. So if you’ve played our game, please send us feedback! It can only help. Or you can submit pictures of your ship named FreeS as you play another game. That’s acceptable, too. Heck, you could submit a picture of a potato. I’d appreciate it.

As of this post, it’s hard to get a timetable on when we’ll finish cleaning up the contest version. I head back to school in a few weeks, and there’s no way to predict how much of my energy, free time, and dignity I’ll have left intact. We’ll see!

Once we release a Shiny version of the contest demo… There’s already plans for an expanded version! Honestly, we were looking at things we’d like to expand even during the contest. There’s Plans in the Works for six new levels. No more, and probably no less. We both want to avoid Feature Creep, and thinking of ways to keep 9 total encounters interesting and unique will be quite the fun challenge! (GET READY FOR SOFYA 2.0....)

So, expect regular updates, ideally bi-weekly once we get back to work. There’s plans to talk a lot about how we made the contest version, in hopes other people can use the knowledge for their own games. We might be a little quiet in the near future as we recover from the contest, but rest assured the folks at Free Spirits HQ haven’t given up the ghost yet!

I leave you with a poster for the upcoming smash hit, Free Spirits: The Movie: The Spirits Within



Yeah, I know, right? We did it, we did the thing. THE GAME IS MADE and submitted and whatever. I am running on 6 hours of sleep and Penta is currently on a plane across the country after none, but yup we did it. We made the deadline.

The game itself is under 2 hours long if you rub your face on absolutely everything, and this is from someone Not Me or Penta playing it! Everything Works, any glitches should be minor with nothing game breaking. There are, however, plans to extend the game once the contest is over and Penta and I have rested up! We have about 3-4 more ghosts we'd love to add that expand the stories of the folks in the Cat's Meow, not to mention a whole heaping pile of polish to go on the existing cases. But hey, WE WILL GET THERE and it will be great. For now, have this cool thing that we're both super proud of. ;w;

Um, heck, I know I had more to say than just this. Well, hey, if you dig this game, please vote! The IGMC page is here, and we could super use the support. ;w;

....really I know I had more to say than this? I was supposed to bring the party wagon. I am failing in my duties. Well, um, I guess, if you have any questions, let me know? Right, uh, if you find any bugs that wreck the whole game, let me know before 4 PM PST so I can Fix Them! Also if you have any questions or just wanna like... idk talk about the game, please feel free to do so. It makes me feel Warm And Fuzzy. ;w;

Thanks again for all the support, everyone! We really couldn't have done this without it, so thank you thank you thank you. <3 I'm gonna go drink a vat of coffee now exCUSE ME


We want U

Battle testing, specifically. We're doing our best to get the full game all put together and polished up, but that's just going to take time. A brief rundown on progress...

Writing? All but one encounter written, with two out of three levels written. There's a lot of miscellaneous things here and there to fill in.

Graphics? Varying degrees of completion! All but one map is in, a significant chunk of sprites are complete, and not too many portraits are done. Now that we're on to testing encounters, I'll be focusing my energy here.

Script guts and code stuff? Super close to complete! Thank the very lovely TDS for that. Seriously, this game wouldn't be where it is without him.

With any luck, we'll actually finish this in time. If not, the least we can say is that we tried our best.

All of that being said, testing is what really gives things a good spitshine. There's a version of the game tuned specifically for testing all the ghost encounters. If you're interested and want to give it a go, let us know! The test version of the project is shared via Dropbox, but if you don't use Dropbox then a downloadable version is available.

Private messages are preferable, but if your ESP is strong enough, or you happen to have some well-trained pigeons on you, those are acceptable methods of contact as well.


The State of the Union

We must be starting off this party correctly.

WHY HELLO THERE, RMN, long time no see~! Welcome to the blog for Free Spirits, a super rad ghost busting, old-lady chewing out, speakeasy attending sim brought to you by PentagonBuddy and me, Dio emmych. Both of us apparently hated ourselves enough to participate in the IGMC this year, and this is our entry! Pretty nifty, ain't it?

So what's this blog all about? Mostly it's a where we're at, what we're doing, and what to expect. I'm also gonna show off some of the fantastic graphics that Penta's been workin' on, since woah jeez I get all sweaty just thinkin' about 'em.

Let's talk about gameplay, first. As you might have guessed, this game is about ghosts! You meet ghosts and you help them move on. To do this, you give them presents, show them things to help convince them to go, and talk to them. But careful! Ghosts are like people: they have a lot of feelings. One wrong move can make your ghost pals feel Things.

we might still be using a lot of placeholder graphics SUE ME

Of course, ghosts can make themselves feel things, too! We have a lovely magician who likes to tell jokes to cheer himself up when Kozmin someone gets him down.

On that note, all the ghost encounters have indeed been outlined! Two of them are in the game already, and the last two are ready to go whenever. I still have to write the dialogue for most of 'em, but things are moving along v v v smoothly. The Guts are basically all there, it's just dressing things up with pretty graphics and writing!

Penta is using some LPC and Pixel Myth tiles, but for the most part they're making everything themself! How neato is that?

A keen eye will notice that a lot of these screens are greyscale except for some splashes of colour. Well, hey, you observant observer, you, have a treat! Colourful things indicate stuff you can interact with, and what things are colourized change depend on which character is at the front of the party! NPCs speak to each character differently as well. It's cute. It's neat. I like it. Leave me alone.

Of course, there's still a lot of stuff we'd love to fit in: more portrait poses, a little extra polish on a few graphical things, more ghosts, more story, etc. But alas, that August 7th deadline! Things hafta be cut or put on hold. Who knows, maybe once the deadline has passed, we'll expand. <W<

Feel free to check out the character page, too! We have all sorts of wacky characters queued up, and I'm hoping you'll enjoy them~

And also because it has to be said, given that this is an emmych/PentagonBuddy game: no, you can't kiss the ghosts, and no, you can't punch the ghosts, but Lana and Kozmin will attempt these things respectively.

this guy has a pigeon named Muriel

SEE YA IN THE NEXT UPDATE whenever that is. <3
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