Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Crash Course

I just had quite a fright. I was actually started thinking about releasing the next stage of Ascension (after the one I posted just this past Friday). I was finishing some stuff up tonight, and while working on it, my computer crashed. Don't know why. Wasn't doing anything I'd expect would cause my computer to crash. But I restarted, and re-opened RPG Maker MV, and when I went to open up my project, it wouldn't open. Said it couldn't read some of the data files. Apparently, they'd been corrupted (whether by the crash itself or whatever caused the crash, I don't know). That's when I started to get scared.

I replaced each corrupted file in succession (determined by trying to open the project after each one and seeing what other file the program couldn't read) - which included all of the JSON files in the data folder (minus the specific maps), as well as plugins.js - from my last backup, which I copied before I renewed work on this project at the start of January. (I know, obligatory warning about backing up your work - but I got enough shit to do and keep track of, both with this game and the rest of my life; I can't make backups every single day).

Finally got the project to open, but now I was looking at having to repeat all the work - essentially my whole adaptation effort - I've put in since the start of the New Year (and I've been working on this game almost every day since January 1 - the only exceptions being the couple of weekends I've been out of town). I won't lie. In the back of my mind, I was entertaining the thought of giving up game development for good. But then as a last ditch effort, I remembered the releases I've posted here on this blog (they've had a purpose all along - even if nobody plays them - that I didn't even know about!).

Thankfully, I was able to re-copy all the corrupted files from as late as the version of the game I released on Friday. (The first thing I did after that was backup my whole project). I'd be annoyed that now I'm going to have to repeat all the work I've done the last three nights, but honestly, most of that work has just been porting the next stage from one engine to another, and not any significant modifications or new content (thank god this stage has very little dialogue!), and compared to the devastating implication of repeating all the work I've done since the beginning of January(!), all I'm doing now is counting my lucky stars, and hoping something like this doesn't ever happen again...

Update (2/13/18):

Unfortunately, my relief was a little premature. Although I did manage to salvage the data, I realized when I tried to playtest last night that the game wouldn't run. Not sure why, and I have no clue how to fix it. So now I have to copy all my data (again...) into a new, fresh project. Maybe one of these years, I'll actually reach the end of the game before some act of god causes me to start over from the beginning. I feel a bit like Sisyphus, trapped in my very own special stage of Hell.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Ascension (MV) Alpha 4.0

Shortly after my last release, I posted an update in the sidebar quietly, without any fanfare, featuring the next stage (now with a full library!). And I'm glad I did, because the one after that has been taking a long time. I've had to rework the torture sequence a bit, hopefully to improve it a little. The new mechanism was inspired by the torture sequence in Metal Gear Solid, because I remember how nerve-wracking that was. (Call me a sadist, but remember that the very premise of this game is that you're in Hell! :-p).

Ascension (MV) Alpha 4.0 (incl. all stages up to Pandaemonium & Nastrond)
Download (~82 MB): Windows | Mac

Next up is Chaos - another one of the stages that testers have told me is among the most challenging in the game. Although I don't know yet if that means it will take a long time or not. Depends on whether and how much I decide to tweak it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ascension (MV) Alpha 2.1

I was very eager to post my release last night, but today I took the time to play through it, start to finish. I mostly made a few minor tweaks, mainly to improve the consistency of text. But I also mitigated to some extent the difficulty of Har Megido, which has proven to be one of the most frustrating stages in this game to play (along with Chaos and Labyrinth), as much as I like it. So this version should be a slight improvement over the last one.

Edit: Funny how a few tweaks can turn into a full day's work. I forgot to modify the menu (which has lots of RPG-related info that's completely irrelevant to my game). I couldn't find a satisfying plugin to make it simpler - not much more than a classic pause screen - so I just figured out how to code it myself. I might work on it some more in the future, but it's much closer to what I want now.

Ascension (MV) Alpha 2.1 (incl. Limbo, Tartarus, Sheol, Har Megido)
Download (~76 MB): Windows | Mac [see sidebar for latest release]

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ascension (MV) Alpha 2.0

To make good on my previous promise - I've been busy as a beaver - and since I haven't released nearly enough playable material in the past few years(!), I'm putting out a sort of demo of what I have so far. A day hasn't gone by since the start of the new year that I haven't made significant progress on Ascension. Let's see if I can keep this pace up, at least until this game is finished. There are certainly some hurdles to overcome in the future (Labyrinth, I'm looking at you).

There may be bugs. There may be inconsistencies. I could easily have overlooked some things even in the sections that should be "finished". And it hasn't been tested nearly enough. (I guess this should all go without saying). But, as far as I know, the first four stages (out of thirteen) should be playable. They are mostly as you would remember them (if you've played them before), but with a couple minor gameplay tweaks (and the semi-significant splitting of one stage into two), and some superficial updates (particularly in the framing narrative). But now on MV! Give it a try.

Ascension (MV) Alpha 2.0 (incl. Limbo, Tartarus, Sheol, Har Megido)
Download (~76 MB): Windows | Mac [see sidebar for latest release]

Next stop: Pandaemonium!

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Resurrection of Ascension

As you are no doubt aware (or have surely suspected), development on Ascension has been on hold for awhile, despite my initially over-optimistic plans to have it released by Halloween 2015 (or even 2014 before that). The reason for this is that I got so caught up in what Ascension hypothetically could be, that I lost sight of what it is, and I buckled under the pressure of the anticipated workload.

As a perfectionist, this is, unfortunately, a common problem that I have. But a wise man once told me that any project is a product of its moment, helping me to realize that it's better to make a statement with the possibility for improvement, than to withhold expression of one's talents until some hypothetical (and probably never-to-be-reached) point at which ultimate perfection will, hypothetically, be achieved.

Ascension is not the first project I started on RPG Maker, but it deserves to be the first project I finish, given the sheer scope of the RPG I am working on. I cannot even envision completing a project like Dragonfaith, until I have realized the completion of a smaller effort like Ascension. And I'd rather put out a complete project - imperfect and flawed though it may be - as an expression of what I am capable of at this point in time, even as an amateur game developer, than to withhold it until it satisfies some impossible rubric of professionality that exists as a vague, ideal form in my head, and that I cannot hope to reach at this time (indeed, if ever).

At the end of the day, I know I can't compete with the professionals out there. And I don't want to. I haven't dedicated my life to that path, and I'm not sure it isn't already too late if I even wanted to. But I don't. All I want to do is learn what I can - whatever bare essentials are necessary - in order to tell this story I have in my head that I want to share with the world. I don't need to make a flawless, groundbreaking game. It's just a delivery mechanism for my creativity.

So with that in mind, I am recommencing work on Ascension, with the goal of creating a complete (not perfect, but complete) version for release in the not-too-distant future. I'm not going to set down a date, but I'd like to say that I should have it ready before the year is out. Certainly I don't intend for it to take longer than that. After all, I still have much work to put in on Dragonfaith (which I'll probably continue to work on off and on, as I have been all this time).

Saturday, September 23, 2017

World Map Analysis

It occurs to me that perhaps instead of just reconstructing these world maps, it might do to analyze them in some detail. If you haven't guessed yet, the first one is the world map from the original Final Fantasy, and the second one (hereafter referred to as "Alefgard") is the world map from the very first Dragon Quest/Warrior game. It's not entirely fair to compare these two games side by side, as Final Fantasy came after Dragon Quest, and represents a slight evolution over the earlier game (and is more comparable to Dragon Quest II), but that doesn't mean I can't discuss their differences.

Firstly, the FF world map is twice as large as Alefgard (256 pixels square vs. 128). But this is forgivable because in DQ, you have to walk everywhere, and you have to start from the same central location every single time (it's the only place you can save your game). Final Fantasy, on the other hand, features a ship for sea travel, and also an airship. As a result, Alefgard is a lot more "landlocked" than the world of Final Fantasy, where you can fly around and sail the high seas.

This distinction is relevant to my own RPG, because I've been debating whether to make my world map more landlocked (which is my first instinct, given how I envision the world in my head - and is more like the world we live in, I think - or at least the part of it I'm familiar with), or to mimic the style of the Final Fantasy games I am most heavily inspired by, with lots of wispy peninsulas and the like. I think that ultimately the decision will come down to what works best for my game, and I think that it will most likely turn out to be more landlocked than the FF map I've reproduced, but not quite so landlocked as Alefgard, since sea and air travel are still major elements of my game.

This may be headed slightly into off-topic territory, but another distinction my game has from the Final Fantasies I am inspired by is the fact that in those games, typically the world map represents the whole world (albeit sometimes with room in the game for other worlds, like underworlds and alternate dimensions and such). In my game, I want to give the player the sense that they may only be exploring part of the world they're in - just the part they have access to - since the plot is about rediscovering the world after the collapse of civilization. Also, I've reserved a whole separate "continent" (though maybe more of a large island) for the final stages of the game, and I want to keep it hidden and off limits until the player gets to a certain point. As such, though I may grant them versions of sea and air travel earlier, I have to contain their voyaging to a point so as to prevent them from entirely getting the sensation, as you do in Final Fantasy games, of sailing around the world and coming back to where you started. Yet, I still want to maintain that sense of heading out to sea, getting disoriented, and not knowing where you are. I had a great idea for a "deep sea" zone that's actually separate from the main world map, but the loss of the instantaneous map transfer ability in RPG Maker MV would make it clunky and dispel the illusion of sailing in a world that's much bigger than the actual map you're exploring.

Sigh, I don't have a solution to this problem as of yet, and it's something I'll have to figure out before the game is done. Ah well. I think that's enough analysis for now. I've already gone into depth about how much I love the game flow (which relates, in part, to how the world is set up) in the original Final Fantasy. Until next time!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

World Mapping

I made a breakthrough the other day on some of the background and plot details for a significant dramatic turn in my RPG that occurs later in the game, past where I've done most of my work so far. I got some great dialogue written down for a confrontation that I'm really excited about. I wish I could finish working on this game already so I could show it to you. But it's a behemoth of a project. I'm finding that, as much as I can piece together some pretty neat maps, it's such a task and a chore, and more often than not it's the thing that's holding me back from making faster progress on my game. Simply put, I wish I could hire a mapper - somebody to take leads from me, but with a talent (and more of an enjoyment, rather than dread), for putting together game worlds of this sort. But, there's no point in wasting time complaining - I just gotta get it done, like it or not.

And on that subject, I've been thinking about world maps lately. I really want to put my world map together. I have a pretty strong idea of everything I want to be on there (even if I haven't mapped out the interiors of all the towns and dungeons yet), but it's such a colossal task, putting a whole world together, tile by tile. I can't decide whether it'd be better to work top-down as my instinct suggests (i.e., get a general idea of where everything sits and then fill in the details), or from the bottom up, piecing some tiles together here and there and seeing where they end up fitting together (not really my style). But one of the problems is that I'm not 100% sure where I want everything to go, especially in relation to everything else. I've sketched out the different areas - call them "countries" - on paper several times, and shuffled them around. But some of the game details, like how you get from A to B, and when you need to have access to C, will affect where things should be placed, and I guess I'm still not 100% confident about all of that.

Still, I've come to the realization that you can't expect yourself to be good at something the first time you've ever done it. And mapping is one thing, but creating world maps provides its own unique challenges. So I've decided that I should start out by practicing putting some world maps together, using some of the maps from the very games that serve as my primary inspiration (i.e., classic, 2D VG RPGs such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest/Warrior). At this point, it's just a copy job, so I'm not getting any practice using my creativity and imagination, but it's like starting out learning guitar by playing other people's songs. And copying huge 256 tile square maps is a daunting task (although I find it strangely relaxing - I could go in a trance and map like this for hours). But I think that digging in and getting my hands into the nitty gritty, examining these maps literally tile by tile, and seeing how the experts do it, will help me to build something of a muscle memory, and hone my instincts on what works well and what doesn't. So that when it comes time to design my own world map, it won't feel so much like I'm jumping out of a plane without a parachute.

So here's what I've completed so far, using RPG Maker MV's native tiles. Fans of the real old school RPGs will surely recognize them (hint, they're from games I've already reviewed right here on this blog). I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to do more or leave it at that (it takes a lot of time, but then I've drawn lots of inspiration from the SNES-era Final Fantasies, and they have some great world maps - especially FFV). It's tempting to just copy these games start to finish, because I love them so much, but while that would be good practice for putting an RPG together, it would be kind of pointless, as those games already exist... Ah well. here's this:

Can you name these worlds? :-3