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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.


-----------------------------------
*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.

-----------------------------------



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.

Progress Report

A Non-Artist Grumbles About Art

I've been working on this project for the better part of 3 years now (holy shit). During those three years, I've been working on my own personal growth as a developer, writer, designer and, obviously, an artist. While I'm not yet practiced enough to call what I've got an "art style," I am learning to strike a balance between what I think looks neat and what I am capable of pulling off. The more I draw, whether they be assets for PotF for just personal doodles, the clearer that balance becomes.

Which brings us to today, where I have a combination of assets aged from two days and three years. Characters have different shading styles, face structure is a little wonky, expressions lack personality, etc. If I redrew everything again from the ground up every time I noticed a flaw, PotF will never see the light of day. What I CAN do, though, is update the art style of older assets to match the new look.

So that's what I did.

A wonderful piece of advice I was given a while ago was this: Don't try to make your work look, "good," because it never will. What looks "good" is entirely subjective, and holding your work to such an amorphous, ever changing standard is incredibly destructive. Instead, aim to convey the story you wish to tell with your work. If that means something doesn't look "realistic", then whatever.

Let's see a before/after comparison for Mia as an example:




1) Eyebrows are now above bangs. For many characters like her and Aeyr, a characters bangs could make it harder to see their eyebrows. Since that is a big part of their facial expressions, I decided to prioritize being able to see their brows than shortening their bangs.

2) Reorganized solid black shade. Solid black shading was inspired by Etrian Odyssey's art style, but it's difficult to place properly. Now, the solid black shading is placed in more natural locations, like the far end of a character's hair.

3) Armor has a more smooth glint rather than a bright reflective surface. I didn't want armor to have a super reflective glint, so this is what I went with.


As of this writing, I have finished giving this update to both busts and portraits for all of the major characters. I wish I could go back two years and punch myself in the face for a bunch of amateur mistakes made when creating these assets, but I've learned what to do and what not to do from them, so I guess it all balances out?

A few other random examples:



---------------
So... yeah. Your opinions, whether you agree or disagree with my reasoning, will all be pretty valid. Hell, I'll probably look back on these portraits and go, "ew I can't believe I did that," a year from now. However, this is the look I'm gonna go with, and I'm gonna call these done so I can finally check "character art" off the big list of things to do.

After I'm done with PotF, I'll probably spend a lot of time working on improving my own art while figuring out what my next project will be. For PotF, though, this is the style I'm going to go with. There's a whole laundry list of items that need doing, and so I'm going to work on them starting now.


Thanks for reading!

Progress Report

Optimization Begets Anger


Took me three and a half freakin years to be able to see this screen. *Wipes tear*



Because I didn't want ANOTHER blog of assurances of continued work on the same areas, I kicked myself into overdrive the last couple of weeks to get a major milestone completed. Today, I'm happy to write that PotF is now playable from start to end credits. It's unrefined, unpolished, unbalanced, and un-insert-positive-descriptor-here, but it's playable.

Now that the framework on how the endings are managed has been set, the rest of the pieces will start falling into place much faster.

For those that don't know, this is a project that I've technically started waaaay back in 2009. So, really, it took me almost an entire damn decade to be able to write that last paragraph. I'll save the sappy monologue for after the game is finished, but Prayer of the Faithless' endgame has a little extra impact on me on top of the already substantial hype of completing a game.

From here on, I'm going to focus solely on getting the non-battle aspects of the game completed. This includes the dialogue, skits, art, and cutscene eventing. I'm doing this not only because it's a big milestone that I want to knock out before switching gears to battle balancing, but because testing the final dungeon with all the equipment and party loadouts has made me painfully aware of certain balancing issues that trance back to a few core components of the battle system that need addressing.

I'll talk about the specifics in the next blog, but the reason behind these issues lies in trying to optimize the game before having all of the core components together. Trying to fine-tune a battle system like this requires a stronger scope of the entire game than I had going in, and it was too easy to fall into the trap of fine-tuning character and equipment stats for a specific chunk of the game without minding how well that would scale 20 hours or so later. To be blunt: the endgame is an unbalanced mess that's far too easy to break (in unfun ways).

Whether this was a failure of proper scoping or an inevitable aspect of game dev in general, I can't say for certain. However, I have learned so much about what to do and what not to do during the course of PotF's development, and I know I am better for having jumped into the fire.

Thanks again for reading!

Progress Report

Employment was a Mistake

This month is going to be a short update, primarily because most of the work I've done last month consists of back end stuff that doesn't make for good progress report fodder. The other reason is that, a few weeks after the last blog, I managed to secure myself a new job and have been trying to adjust. I think I've started to get the hang of it, but I usually only have the energy to work on the game for about 30 minutes each day on weekdays. But hey, at least I don't have to worry about being thrown out on the streets, so that's a plus.

Last month I said I would be focuing on editing the script and designing the final dungeon. Today, I'm happy to accounce that I've in the middle of editing the script and designing the final dungeon. These are the reports that I know you all look forward to reading about each month, am I right?

Okay, but seriously, Chapter 5 is the biggest chapter of them all in terms of required content, so you'll have to forgive me if I take a liiiiiiittle longer than I usually do to show off progress. ESPECIALLY progress that doesn't contain massive spoilers.

The good news is that none of this is particularly hard work. Nothing anywhere near the level of designing endgame logic. The problem is that there is just a lot of work that needs doing, and I have very little time each day to do it. I'll hope to be used to this new job soon enough that I'll have more energy to spend on this game, but that will take time.

Overall, this month was a positive one for me, personally. I'll do my best to make sure that positive development reflects into PotF development progress. Thanks so much for reading!

Progress Report

Feeling Mobile While Bleeding to Death

Last month I talked about how life hit a snag and that development on PotF will be slow. This month, I have yet to escape from the snag, and therefore development on PotF remains slow. On the bright side, I've made myself a little home in the area around the snag, so life is a little more stable. I'm still bleeding profusely, but at least I'll be comfortable while trying to get unstuck! As of this writing, there are a few prospective chances to get out of the snag within the next few days. Hopefully, I'll be able to get out of it soon!

Anyway, onto progress of the game. That's why we're all here, isn't it? As fun as it is to whine, that's not what you're all here for. So, without further ado...

Like I said last month, most of my effort will be getting the game playable, rather than polished. I won't be testing anything until I implement the final boss. So far, here is my progress:


I added a new color to better convey exactly how much progress has been made


Keep in mind that all this meter shows is the state of PLAYABLE content, and the testing color only shows what has been proven to work, not necessarily balanced. It does not take into account non-critical aspects, such as skits, new gear, etc, balancing, etc. I'll still need to do all sorts of balance testing and other boring stuff like that before I can truly call it complete. Once the meter is completely green, I'll be ready to send it off to testers.


WIP of one of the new areas you'll be visiting.


------------------------------------

On the gameplay side of things, I've made a tweak to how armor is going to work. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me talk about how I wanted to change how armor affects SP. Right now, all armor lowers more max SP depending on the weight. Now, armor increases the cost of all your abilities instead. Here is the most extreme example of Aeyr's Drives before and after maxing out his gear slots on heavy armor:


Also, I've made changes to the icons to help you tell at a glance which moves are Guard Break attacks. Characters are also getting unique icons for their Burst Drives. That was always the plan, but it wasn't until now that I'm actually getting to it.


Again, this is after equipping two pieces of heavy armor on Aeyr, one of only two party members that can even wear it. You can lessen the SP cost penalty by equipping lighter armor, or go completely unarmored and play more conservatively.

To balance this, three changes have been made:

1: Armor's defensive bonuses will be increased to balance out the lack of mobility.
2: Armor will no longer reduce max SP.
3: All enemies will gain an extra bonus to damage to punish those who let their SP run out while wearing little to no armor.

So why make this change at all?

Well, the change to SP damage reduction from a hard amount to a % amount didn't compliment the bonuses given to armor. I wanted the decision to equip armor be one of managing mobility vs. defense. If you wanted to go unarmored, the thought should be "I'm going to keep my SP from running out to maximize my defense."

This didn't work well with SP damage reduction being % based. You could just equip heavy armor, then play the same way as if you were unarmored. There was no drawback. Therefore, the change was made. I'm very happy with the result.

-------------------------------------------

Moving forward, I'll be beginning work on Chapter 5. The first draft of all the cutscenes have been written, so I'll be focusing on editing them and designing the final dungeon before I'm ready to put it all together. Unity has completed all of the monsters, and Eric Ramos has completed all of the music. So that means all blame for the game's delays can be rested solely at my feet! Isn't that grand?

As always, thanks for reading! Seeing any kind of interest in the game after so long means the world to me.

Progress Report

Update

I was surprised and exhilarated to log into RMN and notice that the last blog managed to get featured on the front page! I can only hope that someone, somewhere, may have found my solution to a problem helpful in their own game design. It'd mean the world to me if it did.

So how am I going to follow that up? By announcing that development for PotF just hit a snag. That seems appropriate, right?

Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been more than a little stressful for me. After a long and arduous few weeks, I was let go from my job a few days ago. I won't bore/depress anyone with the details, suffice to say that I wasn't as active on RMN because I got lazy.

So why am I complaining about this to you all? Well, because my priorities have to shift away from PotF and towards securing a new job. This is going to affect my projected release window of this summer. How far along will it be pushed back? Honestly, I can't say. All I can do is give a huge, massive thanks to everyone here for sticking with PotF's development for so long, and promise that I will give you a new release window when I can see one.

I'll still work on the game little by little in the spare time I can find, and I'll still keep up the monthly update blogs, but I think I'm gonna change my dev strategy: Before, I would complete one character's chapter, then run through it myself before sending it off to testers. Now, with the endgame so close (I'm about to implement cutscenes for Mia 4), I think I'm going to go ahead and finish up the rest of the game before involving testers. Screw balancing and screw testing, I'm gonna work on making the game playable from beginning to end right now, and work on polishing it later.

But let's end on a positive note: I want to reiterate how thankful I am you all have stuck around as long as you have. I'm sorry to throw this out at you, but I hope you understand. Again, I'll still post a blog monthly (I'll never run out of topics to talk about, haha), so don't think I'm dipping out of RMN or work on the game.
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