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Progress Report

The Story is Complete

Last night, I finally implemented the last main cutscene of the last route. From a story perspective, Prayer of the Faithless is done.

...Okay, I won't lie: I've been sitting here staring at those first two sentences for a good twenty minutes now without writing anything else because I just... can't believe it. I wrote the sentences, and I still can't believe it. I keep doubting myself, going back through my notes and the build just to make sure I'm not forgetting something. But nope. The scenes are done. They're actually, really, honestly done. The game can be played from the prologue all the way to the end credits.

That's not to say that there isn't much left to do, of course. After finishing up my little slash and burn campaign, my first priority was to get the story complete before seriously tackling the other components. The story of Prayer of the Faithless was the last big obstacle slowing me down, and the biggest reason why the game has been taking so long to get done. As I mentioned on Twitter earlier, getting this story written down and done was the longest and toughest things I've ever had to do since I started developing games. And now, here it is. Complete and playable.

I won't lie and say that I don't have reservations on how this story concludes. Maybe there's a theme that wasn't thoroughly explored, or maybe one or more characters could have been fleshed out more. However, the main aspect of the story, the resolution of Aeyr's and Mia's stories and their conflict with each other and their situations, has been wrapped up nicely. Everything else can be polished out with a little extra work. For the sake of keeping my anxiety to a minimum, I'll save my thoughts and feelings on the story's conclusion until after the game releases and just focus on the fact that the story of PotF is done after five long and brutal years of work.


Trill's dialogue will always put a smile on my face.


So, uh, what IS left to do? Well, like I said, there are still quite a few components of the game that were left by the wayside while I focused on the story. My slash and burn campaign did a lot of slashing and burning, but not much regrowing, so now I'm going to focus on that. Enemy stats have been reworked, but that caused troop balance to get thrown out of whack. Excess item types have been cut, but that left a lot of empty item events scattered across the world. Remixing enemy and item placements is not a lot of extra work overall, but work that needs to be done all the same.

And then there are the tilesets. If there's one thing that this game has taught me, it's that I need to really practice my pixel art before I attempt something large scale again. Half the game's dungeons are unfinished visually because my lacking sense of aesthetics could barely encompass anything beyond "point A to point B," so ramping up the tileset is the next big item on the list.

Finally, there are skits. Despite them being some of my favorite things to work on (I'm a sucker for relaxed party banter), they also haven't gotten much attention from me. Luckily, now that the main story is done, I know what themes and plot threads can be fleshed out and explored with a skit. I've jotted down plenty of skit ideas, but they need to be implemented.

So... where does this leave the game? Well, remember back in January* when I said PotF would be completed in 2019? ...Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen. I've learned a lot of painful lessons in time management and personal pacing that will undoubtedly make future projects better, but they don't really help to bring this project to a close. I'm gonna focus the rest of the year on polishing everything I can, and will get back to you when I feel confident enough to start the next round of testing.

Anyway, I know I say this a lot, but progress (slow as it is) is still being made. The implementation of the last cutscene is done, and so with it the hardest, most brutal challenge I have ever faced not just with PotF, but my entire game development history, has been conquered.

For now, though, I'm gonna go get some rest.


*: Christ, I actually went back and reread my January blog and am cringing so hard at how I let all this time go by. Let me reiterate my earlier statement that I'm more critical of myself than anyone else could be and, anxiety or no, I am frankly embarrassed at the promises I make and consistently botch. Someone slam a pie in my face, because I feel like such a clown.

Progress Report

Amputation is the Best Medicine

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I've had more fun working on Prayer of the Faithless this last month than I have since the year began. The cutting and streamlining process forced many components of the game to snap into place, and I've been able to put a bow on some some design choices that I've been on the fence about for months, if not YEARS.

It's been rightfully pointed out to me that this is not the first time I've made serious changes to the characters and enemies, and I need to bring this vicious cycle to an end once and for all. To that end, I've tested all of my changes on enemies in chapter 1 and chapter 5 to get a sense of how well these new mechanics scale over the course of the game. Only when I'm satisfied testing on both early and late game enemies will I update the rest of the game's enemies with the change. I can say with certainty that whatever changes I make here will NOT have to be reworked again. If I ever have to rework the game to this level again, I will eat my own socks.




Inspired by the tense feeling I wanted to invoke in players meeting a new enemy, I've been playing around with hiding enemy elemental and state resistances and requiring players to attempt to hit enemies with them in order to find out what they are. You'll still be able to see their stats, but everything else will have to be found out by actually fighting them.

I understand that, for many players, this can be seen as arbitrarily adding an extra step to an already difficult game. However, please consider the following: If you have access to ALL the information about an enemy, there's a good change that you will start to formulate a strategy to take them down before even understanding what the enemy is capable of. Being blindsided by a new ability that you didn't take into account isn't ideal for what I want to put players through. Instead, I want them to start off slowly, prepare their party for any scenario, and be able to adapt to whatever the enemies throw at you.

Enemy count for troops have been reduced significantly. Outside of special battles like Black Spouts or bosses, you should expect to fight about 1-3 enemies per troop (and fighting 3 at once is a rarity outside of the aforementioned Black Spout and boss fight). This gives me the freedom to give each enemy more depth, such as using a specific debilitating move at the start of the fight, and some will react to being hit with specific states or when they are the last enemy left in a troop.

If you've played the demo, you may have noticed the state list is slightly different now. The biggest change is that limb injuries that block different ability types do not exist anymore. Not to say that they are gone completely, though! In fact, the effects themselves have been absorbed into specific emotional ailments. I did this because I wanted to place more emphasis on emotional ailments with this new system. Not only because fewer states are easier for me to manage, but because emotional ailments now tie into the story quite a bit more. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, that's all I'll say about it for now.



So... the Merchant was another component of the game I was seriously debating on cutting completely. The Merchant was originally designed as a way to load up on healing supplies as well as provide an alternative way to get Black Spout weapons players found to be too difficult to get. However, I didn't want to encourage players to grind the same spot to save up cash to buy out the Merchant's inventory. Now, their role has been downplayed to provide players a pit stop to restock on items while they continue their journey and NOT as an excuse to stop forward progress and grind to buy out their entire inventory. If I decide later that the Merchant should also sell Black Spout weapons, they will NOT be sold in the same chapter as that Black Spout appears.

In addition, the Merchant's inventory is going to be different for each campaign. For example: since Aeyr's party has healing abilities, the Merchant will not sell healing items to him. Instead, the Merchant will sell certain attack items that Mia's party would not be able to get.


There are a lot of other changes as well, but I hope these two should give you an idea of the new goals of the game. Of course, I'll still happily listen to any feedback you may have about these ideas. If I decide to walk back some of these design choices, I've balanced the rest of the game so as not to be greatly impacted by such changes.


As of this writing, I have enacted these changes across the entire game, meaning that all allies,enemies, and components have been given this new treatment. From here, making adjustments is as simple as raising/lowering enemy levels and updating a handful of common events. For the first time in a long while, I get home from work and think, "Alright! Time to get some work done on PotF!"

I have absolutely no regrets about the decision to rework this game. Thank you so much for your patience with my shenanigans.

Game Design

Realigning the Sights

Sometimes you don't know how badly you needed something until you got it. That one week break I took at the beginning of last month has been one of the most relaxing weeks in my life since starting PotF. So relaxing, in fact, that it ended up expanding into a whole month!

Well, kinda. While I didn't do major work on the game itself, I DID take a long and hard look at the project as a whole, where I am in my life, and started figuring out what I could do to prevent being overwhelmed again. Eventually, I came to a difficult conclusion: I no longer have the time to work on this game as it was originally scoped. If I continue at the pace I'm going with the project as it is currently scoped and designed, the anxiety attacks are going to keep happening.

It was time to make some hard choices. Today, I'm going to talk about the results of those choices.

1. Slash and Burn

As I mentioned before, I don't have the time or energy to work on PotF like I did when I was a student in college. I've since graduated and have been in the workforce for over a year, and each day takes a lot of energy out of me. This game was originally supposed to be completed before I graduated but, well, you all know how that turned out. Therefore, if I wanted to get this game done within this millennium, I had to reduce the complexity of the systems already in place:



If you've been following the game for a while, you'll notice a few changes to this screen. The most prominent one being that the armor slots have been gutted. That's right: armor is the first victim of the overhaul. Light, medium, heavy armor? All gone. You won't be able to build damage tanks that can deflect all physical attacks anymore.

The Gear slots that you see here now are what was formerly known as Relics. While I still haven't finalize how they work, how many Gear slots a character will have, etc., the general idea is that the effects they have on stats have been reduced in favor of adjusting special parameters like evasion, target rate, and SP cost.

The equipment that primarily affects your stats during battle will be your Weapon and Personal gear. Since Personal gear is unique to each character, that will allow me to get more creative with what stats each piece can change.


Speaking of stats, you may have noticed that there are two new stats shown on the right column. Strength and Technique have been merged into a single stat called Power. Power is the measurement of the overall damage a character can do, regardless of whether it's physical, technical, magical, or attack item damage. You'll still have to keep a healthy arsenal of all attack types, since enemies have varying Armor and Psyche stats that can negate one or more damage types.

Skill, however, is a brand new stat that affect the external forces surrounding each attack. When attacking, the attacker's Skill stat is measured against the target's Skill stat. The the attacker's Skill is higher, then the attacker is more likely to inflict a critical hit or apply a state to the target. If the target's Skill is higher, then state application takes a penalty, and the attack is more likely to Graze the target instead of making a clean hit. Grazed attacks can be thought of as an reverse critical, meaning that your damage is significantly reduced, and you will not apply any state to the target. The greater the difference in Skill stats, the higher the likelihood of the bonuses/penalties applying to the attack.

All of this was done, again, in the name of streamlining the character customization process. At the time of this writing, I've also cut roughly 25 battle states that make use of the cut mechanics, 20 abilities that relied on Technique stat for damage, and I know more cuts are likely to come. Effects from these cut states, abilities, and equipment will be absorbed as much as possible into existing ones, so it's not like they're going to go away for good. In the long run, I think this is an overall improvement not just for my own sanity, but because each state, ability, and equipment piece now has far more impact on a potential strategy.


I think it'll be easier to gauge an enemy's behavior by looking at its Power and Skill rather than Strength and Technique.




2. Refocus

This blog is called "Realigning the Sights" though, so what else is going to happen than just the cutting of mechanics? I won't detail ALL changes here, but let me tell you the intention:

Use all possible components of the gameplay to help tell the story of determination in the face of hopelessness.

Are you all ready for some super awesome hardcore gamedev glamour shots? Get ready to have your mind blown by such radiance:


MICROSOFT EXCEL, BITCHES!!


I spent time reorganizing stats for both characters and enemies based on some new internal rules I came up with for myself. Now, all battlers in the game (allies, enemies, and even bosses) have the same exact starting stats, but they are differentiated based on their Bulk levels. The difference in power between allies and enemies now comes in the form of their level differences.

I have a second spreadsheet that adds battle stat buffs/debuffs and automatically calculates possible damage of all stats that scales up with levels


So, to design enemy stats, all I need to do now is enter their archetype's stat base in this spreadsheet, enter their level, and bam. Enemy stats have been designed. Not only does this cut back on number crunching, but it allows me to work with a few established rules within the game's lore when designing stats. For example, one of the internal rules is that all Miasma Monsters are so strong that they can overpower anyone who isn't fully prepared to face them. To reinforce that, all enemies have a MUCH higher bulk total than allies.

Which means that, even at the same level, all enemies will be objectively stronger than you. Doesn't that just make you all warm and fuzzy inside?


This is but one of many changes I've made with this goal. I'm still hammering down the details of the rest of the changes, and I feel like I'm going to be doing that until the final phase of testing is finished and the game is about to be released.

However, please understand this: Prayer of the Faithless was originally conceived to be a tense survival RPG, not a fun, relaxing experience. Characters will grow weaker as the story progresses and their mental state deteriorates, enemies will be objectively stronger than they are, and the only "ultimate bad guy" is the inevitable decay of a world that they can't save. But this is a story about determination in the face of hopelessness, so they will continue on no matter how many times they get knocked down.

And any component of Prayer of the Faithless, regardless of whether or not it's objectively "fun" for the player, that doesn't adhere to this goal will get the axe.

Progress Report

Anxiety and Burnout

This blog took me three hours to write, for reasons that will become very clear soon. Strap in, folks. This isn't gonna be a fun one.

All day today, I was racking my brain over what I wanted to talk about for this month's blog. So far, it was looking like this was gonna be yet another "I'm still at it, y'all, I swear!" blog where I'd throw out the same lines about making slow progress but can't go into detail because it's the very end of the game and it's chock full of spoilers. I wanted to draw up a progress diagram to show off what was left to do before release, but one look at the list of tasks that I had tried (and failed) to complete last month made my stomach churn. I thought I'd show off some new areas or pixel art I had made, but I then realized I actually had nothing to show off for reasons of either spoilers or my inner critic drowning out any confidence I had in what I DID make.

This is normally where I'd shrug it off, remember that I'm not in the most exciting phase of development right now, and simply apologize for not having anything substantial to talk about. Today, however, something felt different. I just couldn't bring myself to do that. The pressure to keep working felt far heavier, my mood was at a near record low (which, considering the tone of the game I'm working on, is saying something), and the anxiety over the constant delays was so overbearing I could almost feel it in my gut. My brain has been refusing to cooperate with me today, instead forcing me to relive every single failure I've ever had over the course of this game's development, each one piling on top of the previous ones to become a mountain of crushing guilt and shame that I couldn't shake off no matter how hard I tried. And the more I tried to divert attention from it all, the more sharper the pain became.

"Okay, fine," I thought. "So I'm a little burned out. Seems fair enough. I have been at this game for over four years now almost nonstop. I'll just sprint to the finish line with the last tester's build for round 1, and then I'll take a break while they go through the end game."

And that was going to be the plan. At least, until the moment I stared brainstorming the topic of this blog, recounting exactly what was going on earlier today, when I realized the truth about what happened to me: I had an anxiety attack.

Looking back now, it's so obvious it's almost pathetic. This is not the first time I've had one, especially recently. I've never felt the need to bring them up in the past because, well, who ENJOYS writing or reading about something like this? In fact, the only reason why I'm bringing this up now is because the causes of this particular attack are clear as day: Prayer of the Faithless, and the weight of my own expectations.

Once I realized what was happening, I knew I couldn't wait until I was done with this last chapter before taking a break. I needed time away from this game, and I needed it now. I'm going to eject myself from PotF, the sheer soul-crushing negativity of where I'm at in the story, and just get away from RPG Maker for a while. A week, at the bare minimum. After seven days have gone by, I'll check in with myself, see how I feel, and decide where to go from there. I always tell people that they need to put themselves first and foremost, and I think it's time to finally take my own advice.

I'll still be around. In fact, I plan on making more of an effort to interact with RMN during my time off. I've been a lurker these past, uh *checks post history* few months, but with all that's been going on, actually taking the time to post just... fell by the wayside.

Just to be clear, PotF isn't cancelled. I wouldn't even put it on hiatus. This is just a short, one week break that will probably pass in the blink of an eye for most of you. But it's a blink I really need right now. I hope you understand.

Miscellaneous

Thoughts on Game Endings

I've never exactly kept it a secret that Prayer of the Faithless was set just before the inevitable end of the world. Because of that, I knew that handling the multiple ways the story can conclude was going to be an uphill battle from the very beginning. After all, how else can you end a story with such a definitive finale already ingrained into its core premise? Last week, when I released chapter 4 to testers and began polishing the endgame, I found myself thinking about this a lot more.




Fair warning: While I'm obviously not going to mention anything specific about the CONTENTS of PotF's endings, I will be talking a little about my approach to designing endings, using references that COULD be taken as indirect spoilers. If you wish to go into PotF completely blind, this is not the blog for you. Turn back now.

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.....You still here? Okay, then.


First of all, I'd like to make a very clear distinction on what PotF actually is and, more importantly, what it is NOT. Prayer of the Faithless is not a story ABOUT the end of the world; it is a character-driven story that INVOLVES the end of the world. If the game really was ABOUT the end of the world, then I likely would have been done in a single month. Because the focus is on the people in the world rather than the world itself, that opens up more possible directions to take the story.

But, no matter how many options there are, the story has to end somehow. And that is where my struggles currently lie.


When designing the endings for PotF, I fell back on a few rules I try to adhere to for character-driven game stories:

1: Every ending is canon
You may be familiar with the concepts of the "bad," "normal," and "true" endings in a game. The idea that not completing certain objectives could lead to an unsatisfying ending or that fulfilling certain objectives would lead to the complete, canon ending. I totally understand the intent behind designing endings this way, and I don't begrudge their inclusion.

However, they do not exist in Prayer of the Faithless. There is no one "true" ending, nor is there an ending that punishes players if they missed a vital component earlier in the game. However the characters decide to complete their objectives, each ending should be just as conclusive and fulfilling as each other.


2: Ending titles
Anyone ever play Silent Hill 2? I could probably devote an entire blog post discussing why I adore the way it handles endings. For the purposes of this blog, though, I just want to bring up the names of each main ending: Leave, Maria, and In Water. For those who haven't played Silent Hill 2 (and if you have, pretend you haven't for a second), can you at least attempt an explanation as to what each ending could possibly mean? I doubt you would be able to do so. But what if I renamed the three endings to "Guilt," "Acceptance," and "Selfish?" Do you think you have a better grasp of what each ending represents now?

On the surface, it may look like a simple name change. However, I like to think that the names are vague to allow for the inclusion of multiple meanings/spins on the central theme. PotF's endings will function the same way. Each ending should encompass the central theme of what it's going for without being so specific that it runs the risk of diluting each individual experience and interpretation of the game. Plus, there's the benefit of being able to mention the endings without spoiling anyone still going through the game!


3: Scrap the End-O-Tron 3000



One of the most infuriating ways I've seen games determine endings is, right before the end credits, presenting players with a choice of what kind of ending they want. Players pick an option, see the ending, and that's it. Done.

I can kinda see that working in, say, a game without a predefined main character like Elder Scrolls, since a blank slate character with no predefined personality would benefit from having options to let players roleplay as to what they would want. However, more often than not it looks to me like a time/budget constraint. If that's the case, then fair enough, but as a deliberate design choice, it just screams "cop-out" to me. So this method of determining endings will not be present in PotF.

------------------
That's about all I can really talk about without delving into the contents of the PotF's endings themselves, so I'm going to end the blog here. What I want to really get across here is that writing these endings involve a LOT of references, cross-checking, and questioning as many "what if they..." scenarios as I can to make sure that each ending gets the time and respect it deserves. This is extremely exhausting for both my time and sanity, and at some point I'll have to step back and say "that's enough." Otherwise, this game will never be completed.

If players don't want to try for the other endings, then I want to send them off on a high note. For a game involving the end of the world, that's... a real challenge, to say the least.

Progress Report

Game Dev is Great and I Hate It

Look! Below is a screenshot to distract you from the fact that I forgot to post a blog last month! Look at it! Look at it and don't think about the lack of an update last month at all!




...Yeah, sorry about that, everyone. Now that the endgame has been completed, I'm in the perpetual cycle of polishing and improving until release day. The testers have been a great help in providing lots of useful feedback, but that does mean that the task list never gets smaller the more items I check off.

Not that I'm complaining, though! It's a good problem to have.

I may have mentioned this a few blogs back, but due to a new job sucking away 90% of my life, I had dedicated my precious few drops of free time to simply finishing the game first before moving on to the polishing phase. Well, with the game finished, the remaining work is mostly the bland, boring, thankless jobs that I've been putting off because I didn't want to do it. And that karma has bitten me in the ass, so it's time to go back and finish it all off.

I make no claims of being professional.

Anyway, starting this month, I'm gonna put some more effort into pixel art so I can polish off some late game areas that need them. This way, I can actually get back to showing off more screenshots rather than tell you about what I've been doing. Pictures being worth 1000 words and all that. Also, pictures of game footage are more interesting to show off than pictures of OneNote text or the script editor.

Thanks for reading!

Announcement

Testing Round 1

Let's get right to it: Last month, I finished implementing Ending 2. Just one more ending and we can call this game feature complete! Don't start gathering your confetti just yet, though, because we have the testing phase to go through.

On that note, it's time to start the official call for testers! I plan on spending the first half of this month getting the build ready, and then I'll send out links starting February 15th. This being round 1, I'll only have the prologue and the first couple of chapters ready for testing.

I have a few people that I'll be contacting, but if you'd like to give it a try, please post below and I'll send you a link to the build once it's uploaded. If this month is not good for you, that's perfectly fine! I plan on staggering out testing sessions over the next few months to give me time to polish the game out some more, so this testing call will be open for quite a while.

Once the testing process has started moving, I'll spend my time polishing future areas of the game and implementing the last ending. I'm really excited to be wrapping up development of PotF after so long! Thanks again to everyone who has stuck around for so long!

Progress Report

2018 Sucked. 2019 Looks Alright






LOL


Lemme start by being real with you all: 2018 was a roller coaster for me in terms of life. Just to name a few milestones, I:

- Graduated university after an eight year off and on struggle. Finances, bureaucracy, and a few other reasons stretched it out for as long as it did.

- Was fired from my minimum wage job because of a mental disability. No joke. The reason given was that I was, and I quote: "Too slow in the head, and need to find a place that's more suitable for my needs."

- Attempted and failed to meet PotF's release goal of Summer.

- Attempted and failed to meet PotF's (non-committed) release goal of Winter.

- Began a new career as an IT consultant specifically because of my game development background. NOT my degree, by the way. The games made in RM drew as much, if not more, attention on my resume than anything academic related! And people say RPG Maker will get you nowhere. Ha!

- Began to claw my way out of a 2 year tenancy in a really, really bad mental state. I'm not out of it yet, but every day gets marginally better.


...among other things. Yet not a single event caused me to stop working on the game. Honestly, PotF has been one of the few solid rocks to keep me from getting swept away in the river of depression, so I'm REALLY glad I didn't give it up. With the new year finally arriving, I feel comfortable finally putting a bow on everything that went on last year and ship it all into a furnace to burn for eternity.


And I'm certain I'm not the only one who feels that way, Twitter.




Chapter 4



So. 2019, PotF's 4 year development anniversary, and why should you bother?

I'm grateful that I actually have a full time job that doesn't stress me out to the brink of misery, but it does mean that I'm far more busy now than I ever have been. Ever since this new job, I've only been able to do any substantial work on PotF on the weekends. As I get more and more used to it, I can work on the game a little more during the week. Regardless of how much work gets done, though, it won't be as fast as it has been in the past.

On the bright side, I don't have much more content to actually CREATE now. I said I would work on the remaining endings last month, and I've mostly done that. The dialogue is written and edited for the second ending route. Once that's added to the game, all that's left is the third ending route, and it's all polishing from there.


This was my last playthrough of up to chapter 5 to test the gameplay changes made. Me, with dev knowledge, skimming through all the cutscenes, skipping all of the optional skits, and fighting every battle. Yeah, I think there's a decent amount of content here.


So, essentially, there are only a few things left before PotF can finally move into beta:

- Implement cutscenes for ending 2

- Write and edit dialogue for ending 3

- Implement cutscenes for ending 3.


And the core game will be complete. That's something I feel I can comfortably do without being stressed out. PotF WILL be completed in 2019, and I'll have a more solid release time once I start getting some reliable feedback from testers. Speaking of which...

Once I've gotten the endings completed, I'd like to start sending increments of the game out to testers. This is not a small game, by any means, and so I'd like to take time polishing and testing chunks of it so testers aren't overwhelmed by the size of the game. Plus, early feedback can help me spot and fix issues in the future. I'll elaborate more on that next month, but I keep a running list of interested people!


Thanks so much for reading! This was a bit of a bulky update, but here's to a better 2019!

Progress Report

Tell Your Story

In the 4 years that I've been developing Prayer of the Faithless, I've had a lot of ups and down, triumphs and failures, struggles and... well, more struggles. But the biggest challenge, by far, was what the hell I was going to write for this months blog.

Last month was dedicated to writing and implementing the endings. Obviously, I can't show screenshots of progress because of spoilers, so I'm stuck trying to figure out what I can talk about this month to avoid a boring checklist update without saying too much and spoiling the surprise. What you're about to read is going to be a stream of consciousness rather than a structured update, so be warned.

The last chapter and endings have been a particularly difficult beast to slay. Not only are there three ending routes (which essentially means 3 different last chapters), but tying up each ending's themes and methods of resolutions the way I wanted to was such a daunting task that there were many days where I was paralyzed with fear and couldn't work.

Did I do a good enough job? What if there was an unresolved plot thread I forgot about? Have the characters changed enough to put them where they need to be for the story? Will players still be able to relate to these characters once they've finished their growth?

I've had these endings outlined and drafted for a long time now. In theory, I shouldn't be having any of these doubts. The problem is that anxiety doesn't need a reason to start putting this kind of crap in your head. And once it's in, it takes root in your brain and eats up all of your confidence like a tapeworm.

Eventually, in the latter half of last month, I finally started breaking out of my rut when I remembered a crucial piece of advice on writing: Tell your story.

Prayer of the Faithless has a world-wide crisis that can't be stopped, but the main story being told is how Aeyr and Mia choose to cope with events beyond their control, and the consequences of those choices. What is done (and left undone) is all to serve that story. With that in mind, I finally realized that PotF's endings are exactly where I want them to be, the anxiety is starting to fade, and progress has resumed at a far steadier pace.

At the time of this writing, the first ending of Prayer of the Faithless has been implemented. This month, I plan to capitalize on this wave of confidence and work on the remaining endings. From there, it's going to be polish, polish, and polish until the game's release. Thanks to everyone who has put up with me for so long. I don't think I can ever express how grateful I am to you.

Game Design

Players are the Worst

I think I wrote this friggin' thing about three different times, each with a different approach to the topic at hand. What you're about to read may or may not be completely coherent, but I hope the general idea actually stick with you. If something here doesn't make any sense, feel free to shout at me in the comments. I'm going to go and sleep off this massive headache I got from thinking about this topic.

Don't think, people. Don't ever think. It hurts your brain too much. You can quote me on that.

Anyway, this past month saw me doing to battle balance what I did to the art last month. Now that I have a playable game from beginning to end, I needed to get a better feel for how the entire game felt from beginning to end. And let me tell you: I wasn't too happy with it. Especially the mid-late game.

The biggest balancing flaw was how equipment stat changes are handled. The original idea was that every piece of equipment you put on a character should have a dramatic effect on their stats, and even their intended actions during combat. Equip a piece of heavy armor should make most attack glance off of them easily. In the early parts of the game, this achieved exactly what it set out to do. However, the problems came at late game, when you had enough equipment to mix and match with, that stats took on a blatantly horrific amount of fluctuation. With enough tweaking, for example, a character's armor stat could range from 10 all the way to 78! Combine that between 4 stats across six characters, and you can imagine what kind of nightmare it would be to balance all of that. While it's fun to find optimal setups, this kind of fluctuation went FAR beyond what I was expecting.

The only thing I could do at this point was to put in the time to revamp the equipment system and battle balance just like I did with art. So that's what I did. While I was balancing, one system tweak led to another breaking, and fixing that led to another break somewhere else. Each breakage taught me a new lesson, and enough lessons built up over time that caused me rethink my overall approach to PotF's design. Fast forward a month later, and here we are with a revamped system and a new, more positive mentality.

Before we talk about what I mean by a more "positive" mentality, please take some time to watch this video by Mark Brown:



...I feel personally attacked in this video.


The long and short of it is: when you're developing a game with multiple approaches to solve a problem, like an RPG, it's typically better to encourage the playstyle you want instead of punishing the style you don't. This will allow players to play the way they want to play without being slapped in the face the moment they take one step off from the intended path.

Until recently, I've had "punish bad playstyles" at the front of my mind when designing the difficulty of battles: Enemies will attack allies with low SP to punish spamming that ally. Damage can be reduced to near 0 at max SP to punish players ignoring guard break attacks. Characters will be almost completely unable to move to punish overloading them with armor.

However, over the course of playtesting, I've adopted a mentality that I believe will achieve the same effects without being too much of an asshole to the player. Now, enemies will attack allies with HIGH SP in order to REWARD using your whole party. Damage reduction at max SP will be REDUCED in order to REWARD players who utilize guard break attacks (more on that later). Armor values have been tweaked in order to REWARD experimenting with different equipment loadouts.


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*Side note*

As I'm writing this blog, I keep thinking back to EvilEagles' article about more complex methods of implementing difficulty while maintaining immersion, and realizing more and more how such methods can be applied to PotF.

Punishment-based difficulty fell in line with PotF's hopeless setting; Death was everywhere you looked. Battles against even common enemies could lead to a party wipe if you weren't paying attention. Much like the characters, players would find their path to the end after getting knocked around over and over again every time a mistake was made, assuming they even get that far.

Switching over to a rewards-based mentality can affect the overall outlook of the game's world. Yes, it's still hard for those who don't pay attention, but the excitement over finding a way to survive is a reflection of the character's mentality. The story is all about how hopeless the situation is, and how Aeyr, Mia, and the others react in such a world. Finding solutions to difficult situations gives the player the same excitement as it does the player characters, which makes their reactions in a hopeless world all the more believable.

While I've still got a lot to mull over regarding that article, I realize I've got him to thank for reopening this line of thought that I haven't touched in a long time.

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With that said, here are the steps I've taken towards this new mentality:

1) Streamline stats and lowered armor value changes

There were two big reasons behind this decision. The first was to allow players to tweak the characters the way they wanted to. Since armor and Relics can't be swapped in the middle of battle, the biggest stat alterations were left to weapons and personal gear. This will allow you to switch strategies on the fly.

...And the REAL reason for this is because testing these wild stat changes was a friggin' nightmare, and I wanted to have this game done sometime this century.


2) Reversed targeting algorithm for enemies

Originally, enemies targeted allies with lower SP to punish players who used that ally exclusively. However, what turned out to be the case was players could just use two actions for one ally, then have that ally focus to get more defense. This was a rather timid playstyle that I didn't want to encourage, so I turned the targeting algorithm on its head to achieve the same result by rewarding players who USE allies that they don't want getting hit.


3) Reduced damage reduction at max SP from 75% to 50%

Working rather well with point 2, this reduction means that more damage is going to be inflicted on both the party and the enemy. With such a large damage reduction, players were encouraged to avoid using party members that they wanted to act as a damage tank. In addition, it was practically required to start battles with either a guard break attack or magic to inflict direct damage. While serviceable, it wasn't doing much to put players in a state of flow. Often the extra step felt more frustrating than it did rewarding. With the damage reduction lowered, you can immediately start inflicting damage physically, but you'll just be inflicting MORE damage if you open up with a guard break attack.

Combine this point with point 2, and the result is that the party will be able to take more hits before dying. You'll be given a bit more room to learn from mistakes without it being too frustrating.


With these changes, I hope players are more encouraged the find playstyles that suit them, rather than feel punished for trying to experiment.
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