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A Look Backstage Part II...Many Things

First off, I just added a veritable raft of new images to the Backstage 2 game page. As people assign a lot of significance to screenshots, I'd just like to make a handful of disclaimers:

a) The game is between ~60 and ~80% done, so at this point criticism on visual or aesthetic mistakes that can't be easily fixed is not desired. If I can fix it in a minute or so of clicking I want to hear about it. If not, unless it breaks the game and makes it unplayable (which of course you can't tell from a screenshot) I'd rather not know.
b) Some of these may well look better in motion than they do as still images; the same goes with the dialogue, which might work better within its greater context. Judging Backstage on images alone is a bit unfair anyway; it's the sound design more than anything that creates the atmosphere.
c) Does it look too dark on your monitor? If so tell me. I'm considering adding an 'adjust your monitor brightness so this symbol/writing is barely visible' screen at the game start. A couple of them look darker as screenshots than they really
d) If you've been following Backstage 2 since 2006, don't expect too much that's really new. Many of these screens show the same maps and scenes that you first saw 4 or 5 years ago. To most RMN users, though, this should be new to you, unless you're one of the tiny number of people who've already played the demo.
e) Finally, several of these maps SHOULD be upgraded with reasonably sexy lighting effects before the game sees final release. Consider these screens the "plain" or "naked" version.

Secondly, I'd like to talk about systematic/procedural vs. sequential or "as you go along" design methods.

It doesn't look like much compared to the other maps, with their weather, screen tone, lighting effects, and other atmosphere, but this map, labeled 'battle system test', has been the hardest part of the entire process of making Backstage 2.

How do you make your games? Do you do all of the setup stuff all at once (create all of the heroes, classes, skills, equipment, items, and monsters in the database, create all of the maps, and then begin eventing)? Or do you do "just enough" of the procedural tasks in order to be able to expand the playable part of the game a few minutes at a time? i.e., did you ever make just enough maps and items to start the intro and the first section of gameplay, and had to go back to making more maps when you realized that the teleport event on the last one you'd made had nowhere to go to? Have you ever created a chest event only to go back and create the item the chest was supposed to give in the database right and there?

I feel like on the professional side of things procedural generation is much more common. Let's nail down the battle system before we start working on maps. Let's finish all the maps before we start writing events. Etcetera. However, for most amateurs--at least I know for myself--doing things 'as you go along' is key to your sanity as you battle the tedium of game development and struggle to stay motive, using variety as another weapon in your arsenal.

However, Backstage 2 really forced me to get systematic. For some background:

Backstage has two playable characters. Each playable character has six unique weapons they can equip over the course of the game (note that Tom from the original Backstage had only 5; glass shard, revolver, automatic, molotov, and shotgun, so the number of weapons in this game has more than doubled, as has the nuance and complexity of the battle system). These six weapons only have one instance of overlapping. Additionally, enemies need to be coded in such a way that an enemy for the 'Tim' portion of the game is unusable for the 'Raechel' portion of the game, because of how they manipulate animation poses. If Tim were to be turned into a wounded Raechel graphic, for instance, that wouldn't be right. There are also seven basic types of enemies, each of which has different attributes and properties. (Cataracts are poisonous and infect you if you are hit by them or hit them in melee with anything but a Fire based weapon; Clockworks can only be damaged by High Power weapons; Gasmasks can shoot you from a distance if you're not careful to dodge their projectiles while closing. And so on.)

So basically, there is one page of event code per weapon, per enemy, per character for me to copy paste and fiddle with. This is extraordinarily tedious and of course one switch or page missed means a potentially game breaking error. So what I have been doing is only giving enemies event code for the weapons that *can be found in the game before the enemy is encountered*. For instance, early game(Raechel) Nightgaunts can only be dispatched with bare fists, a combat knife, or the automatic pistol because those are the only weapons available in the early game. The problem with this should be obvious; if you can successfully escape an early game enemy and backtrack with a more powerful weapon to take it on later, it treats you as unarmed because it doesn't have the code for, say, a Colt Single Action army because you're not *supposed* to have that weapon at that point in the game.

This forced me to get Systematic and I really did. I managed to get Backstage II's entire battle system done over several marathon sessions comprised of hour after hour of eventing. All seven enemies can now be engaged (differently) by all weapons wielded by both heroes. This required at least 112 full pages of event code lousy with nested conditionals and switch and variable manipulation. (8 Pages per enemy x 7 Enemies per PC x 2 PCs = 112). I'm very glad I got this over with, and actually, putting the enemies side by side and testing their respective danger levels (as well as the new graphics for dispatching them with the new weapons) was very exciting. I wound up rebalancing the entire battle system by slightly modifying the stats of all major enemies; where it would improve the game, I also reskinned some of them with new and hopefully more menacing graphics. The Cataract is my favorite although at least two enemies from Backstage 1 also make a return. Hopefully this time around the enemies' strengths and weaknesses and overall threat level will be more clearly defined, whiles till keeping the focus where it should be, on scaring the player and on telling a truly creepy story.

Most importantly, though, I can now just plug and play, inserting enemies into the game and the story without having to worry about coding new weapons and sequences for them. Just switch the 'death' switch, and they're ready to go.

You'll notice I haven't included any of the enemy designs, old or new, on the screenshots I uploaded today, except the one in-editor one there where you can barely see them. There were two reasons for that; one is that the worse a horror movie's special effects are, the less the monster should be seen. It worked amazing for Alien. Secondly, those screenshots are from the early game, and Backstage II has a MUCH slower based opening than the original. It will be a while before you see your first monster, this time around.


Last but not least, Backstage 2 was recently featured on the Sore Losers gaming blog. While of course around here we all know Fallen-Griever as our friendly neighborhood game reviewer, I thought his blog looked quite professional and I felt honored to be getting a plug there. (Hopefully the review, when it comes, will be a favorable one.)

Anyway, that's it for this edition of "A Look Backstage" and that's it for this week's update! As usual stay tuned for more updates in the future, although the next couple weeks will be pretty crazy for me, so probably not until mid-August. I am very excited to finally be on the cusp of starting to finish this project, though!


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The game is between ~60 and ~80% done

Does it look too dark on your monitor?

Depends, screens like this are actually pretty dark, but the others seem okay. If you maybe added a little bit of a glow around the windows to brighten it up a little bit I think that it'd look fine :>

Also serious nitpick (hey it's what I do :\) but in this screenshot I think that it'd be an okay idea to sort of 'layer' your tree canopies :> Doesn't have to be a lot, but it's nicer than just looking at lots of darkness.

Overall it looks like you're making some great progress! :D
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Yeah, that's the one that I snapped while it was fading out alright.

And you're right about the trees!
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