Feb 262015
 

We were trying to think of interesting things we could show off that were still early in the game (since we don’t want to spoil too much of what happens later) and realized we hadn’t shown off any images from the hacking segments.

Note, this is still a work-in-progress and we’re still working on the hacking systems, both visually and mechanically. Still, this will give you an idea of where we’re heading. Enjoy!

 Posted by at 10:23 am
Feb 022015
 

Rami Ismail of Vlambeer fame recently wrote an interesting article talking about the failures & success of the game industry. There’s nothing particularly new in his article but it serves as a good summary of the current state of things.

We live in a world where it’s never been easier to make video games. One-person & small teams now can make a video game, release it digitally, and hopefully find success without the need for a publisher. With that freedom & ease comes competition. In a world where everyone can make a video game, sometimes it feels like everyone IS making a video game.

You can’t directly get rid of competition. You can’t make people stop making video games.

So what are you to do in a world where everyone is making a video game and you’re up against all of the classics of past years? There are basically three routes to success.

1 – Make a better game than everything else. We see this a lot in the AAA sphere. If we take one of the best games of the past & spend even more money on graphics & technology, the end result should be even better, right?

2 – Make everyone think that you have a better game than everyone else. Market, market, market. Spend a fortune on marketing, get celebrities to endorse your product, and try to buy your way to success.

3 – Make a different game than everyone else. We see this a lot in the indie sphere. If your game is the only game of its type, than everyone who wants to play a game of that type is yours, assuming quality & price matches up to their requirements. Most people don’t make 100% original games, but making games in less crowded genres or with unusual premises can have a similar, though less absolute effect.

It’s not enough to make a good game. It’s not enough to make an excellent game. When I was at Playstation Experience 2014, I wandered around the indie section and pretty much every single game I saw looked like a high quality game. Despite that, I’m sure some of those games will not be financially successful.

Quality isn’t enough. If you make a quality game that’s similar to a thousand other quality games, you’re still competing against a thousand other quality games.

The way to be successful as an indie who doesn’t have the money to brute-force their way to success via marketing or better technology is to STOP COMPETING WITH EVERYONE ELSE. Make something that stands out. Make something that’s different. Make a game that gets people to think “I want this game and no other game out there is an adequate substitute.” Make something that’s worth buying. Make something that’s not “yet another” game. Make something that’s glorious. Make something that’s yours.

There’s room for more success in the game industry than we’ve ever seen before, but we need to all stop fighting over the same little pond with the same kind of games. Let the big companies duke it out over a few scraps; in the mean time, there’s a vast ocean awaiting us.

 Posted by at 10:22 am
Jan 232015
 

New Kickstarters:

Starr Mazer – $38k ($160k goal). 28 days left. Awesome looking mix of side-scrolling shmup and point & click adventure game. Alex Mauer (who did music for our 3rd game) is helping with the music.

Children of Morta – $33k ($65k goal). 27 days left. Top-down Action/RPG with Hyper Light Drifter-style art.

Steel Assault – $2k ($8k goal). 26 days left. NES-style Action/Platformer.

Previous Kickstarters:

Shadowrun: Hong Kong - $639k ($100k goal). 25 days left.

Drift Stage - $45k ($30k goal). 15 days left.

The Grisaia Trilogy: Three Huge Visual Novels for PC – $389k ($160k goal). 8 days left.

Recently Completed Kickstarters:

N/A

 Posted by at 11:45 am
Jan 202015
 

To start off, here are a couple new screenshots!

Here’s a pic of Alyssa’s quarters at the Agency of Peace & Intelligence!

And here’s one of our heroes crossing a bridge! A bridge!

We’re busy working on inserting content into the game at the moment. By our latest estimates, the main game should take between 10-14 hours to complete, plus an additional 3-6 hours for major side-quests. Unlike our previous games, side-quests won’t just be “Go into non-descript small dungeon & fight a few monsters for loot” and in fact, all of the playable characters except Alyssa has a side-quest that’s connected to them. We’re having a lot of fun with these (including some homages to some of our favorite games) and hope you will too.

On the music front, Hyperduck is on a roll and has about 30 songs in finished or almost finished state. In some instances, they’re doing multiple versions of the same song – for example, a faster, more intense remix for an area after it turns hostile. This soundtrack is going to be amazing when it’s done!

We try to make our games so that as long as you take advantage of your characters’ strengths & use strong strategies, you don’t need to do extra grinding to progress. However, we know some people like to grind so they can steamroll the game while others like to know that the option of grinding is there for them in case they get stuck on a particularly hard boss. In order to fit those playstyles as well, we’re thinking that we’re going to add a VR battle option into the game. While in dungeons, you’ll be able to select the VR Battle command from your main menu to enter VR mode where you’ll fight random battles with enemies in that area for XP & credits. And in your base, there will be a special VR battle unit that you can use to fight extra hard bosses – these won’t give XP or money but they will give you special rewards like powerful equipment the first time you beat each one.

Now let’s talk about difficulty.

Difficulty is a tricky thing to get right in RPGs. Make a game too easy & people get bored. Make a game too hard & people get annoyed & may stop playing all together. Unfortunately, it feels like everyone’s opinion on what’s too easy or too hard is different.

In the past, we’ve given our games 4 difficulty options – Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane – and allow players to adjust their difficulty mid-game. On the plus side, this allows players to tailor the game’s difficulty to their own needs. On the down side, some people feel like they’re not playing the game correctly if they don’t play it on the default difficulty, even if they feel like the default difficulty is too easy or too hard for them.

As far as Cosmic Star Heroine’s difficulty goes, there’s a number of different routes we could take.

1) Multiple difficulties that the player can adjust mid-game like our previous games.
2) One main difficulty, but make sure that enough of the optional content is harder for people who want a challenge.
3) Gameplay modifiers like in Bastion/Transistor. You activate modifiers (like enemies become more dangerous when under 25% Max HP) that make the game harder, while also giving you rewards.

Any thoughts?

Oh and regardless of what we do, we’ll probably have some sort of New Game+ mode for people who want to replay the game with all their previous stats/abilities/equipment intact.

In other subjects, we know trophies/achievements are serious business for a lot of people. None of our previous games have had a trophy system in them so we’re quite new in this field. What are your trophy do’s and don’ts? What kinds of trophies would you like to see in Cosmic Star Heroine?

Finally, we’re going to be doing a Reddit AMA on Friday, January 30th. We’ll be sure to post a link when it starts.

Thank you everyone for supporting us! Cosmic Star Heroine is going to be great!

 Posted by at 1:43 pm
Jan 162015
 

New Kickstarters:

Shadowrun: Hong Kong - $482k ($100k goal). 32 days left. Stretch goal-only Kickstarter to enhance the 3rd game in the new Shadowrun series.

Drift Stage - $40k ($30k goal). 23 days left. Arcade racing game with trippy color scheme.

Previous Kickstarters:

The Grisaia Trilogy: Three Huge Visual Novels for PC – $373k ($160k goal). 15 days left.

Recently Completed Kickstarters:

Aviary Attorney - £18k (£7k goal).

Yes, Your Grace - £7k (£6k goal).

Cube and Me [RE] - $7k ($15k goal).

Americana Dawn – $28k ($70k goal).

Clannad Official English Release – $541k ($150k goal).

 Posted by at 9:38 am
Dec 262014
 

Since I’ve noticed some confusion on the subject, here’s a quick primer.

This is a screenshot of an 8-bit RPG (Dragon Quest IV, NES):

dq4pic

 

This is a screenshot of a 16-bit RPG (Final Fantasy VI, SNES):

FF6pic

Notice how the two screenshots are very different in detail & number of colors used?

I would include a 32-bit RPG example as well, but in the 32-bit era (Saturn, PS1), there was much greater variety in visual styles with some games using 2D but with more detail, animation, and effects than in 16-bit RPGs (Breath of Fire 3-4), some games using a mixture of 2D & 3D (Grandia, Xenogears), and some games using 3D characters on top of prerendered or FMV backgrounds (FF7-9, Parasite Eve 1-2).

Feel free to bookmark this page & refer to it when you’re not sure whether to refer to a game as an 8-bit or 16-bit RPG.

 Posted by at 8:57 am
Dec 232014
 

I was asked to do another Game of the Year analysis this year, but I was having a hard time coming up with a Top Games of 2014 that was both accurate to my tastes & interesting to read. I mean, I enjoyed inFamous: Second Son & Mario Kart Wii U, but I’m pretty sure nobody cares that I thought that they looked pretty & were fun to play.

So instead, I’m going to take a look at some of the 2014 JRPGs I played this year and discuss some of things they did well and some of the things that they could have improved at. This article will be focused on gameplay mechanics and will largely ignore other aspects that a game may have done well or poorly on like story, characters, visuals, music, etc.

Note, even though I’m going to be discussing flaws with all of these games, I greatly enjoyed each one.

—Child of Light—
Yes I’m well aware that Child of Light wasn’t made in Japan. I don’t care; it’s obviously a JRPG in style.

The Good:
Child of Light borrows liberally from Grandia’s battle system (aka one of the best turn-based battle systems) around. For those unaware with the Grandia system, by using certain abilities on a target right before their turn, you are able to interrupt them, pushing them back on the turn bar and delaying the time until their next turn. Child of Light takes this one step further by giving all attacks interrupt capabilities & by giving the player more control over when the enemy will be in interrupt status via a helpful ally that can slow down enemies while the enemy is targeted and a button is held down (but only while the ally’s meter has charge).

Individual characters have few abilities in Child of Light, but character can be replaced with one of your many reserve characters mid-battle. Frequent use of character swapping is essential to success in the harder battles.

The Bad:
With a character limit of 2 allies & 3 enemies, a lot of the battle situations can start to feel the same over the course of the game. The game only has 2 difficulty levels which roughly translate out to “Hard” and “Embarrassingly Easy” with no good medium level for those who don’t want to steamroll the game but also don’t want to spend a lot of time on every single random encounter (reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings JRPG although it had the 3 difficulty levels of “Embarrassingly Easy”, “Easy,” and “Tediously Difficult”). The LV-Up system is far less interesting than it could have been – characters tend to get all of their abilities early on and further levels merely serve to upgrade their abilities & give them higher stats. Between the repetitive encounter design and a low number of non-combat areas & activities, the game felt like it was in an awkward position as far as overall time goes – a little too long for its depth & variety.

—Bravely Default—
The Good:
I’m a big fan of job systems that allow you to mix & match abilities and Bravely Default has a great one, born from years of making Final Fantasy games. The Brave & Default system that the game uses (which allows you to store up turns for future use or unleash up to 4 moves in a single turn) makes for some great boss encounters. The game also gives the player control over things like random encounter frequency to allow them to fine-tune the game to fit their own playstyle. The game also has a fun metagame in the form of a town reconstruction project that’s reminiscent of some freemium schemes but doesn’t require real money to use.

The Bad:
The Brave & Default system that is so good in boss encounters turns out to be incredibly broken in random encounters with most random encounters being possible to beat in a single turn, often without the enemy taking any moves at all. Certain combinations of abilities completely trivialize the game, enabling the character to become perpetually invincible, or generate a large number of extra turns. Being able to adjust random encounter rate feels like a bandage trying to cover up deeper design flaws like making sure that battles are engaging & properly paced out. Having the player repeat the game works in a loot-focused RPG like Diablo since the main goal in playing is to gain power & to acquire powerful equipment (which has a random element); in an otherwise traditional JRPG, having to repeat the game over and over feels cheap & tedious.

—Persona Q—
The Good:
Persona Q gives all of the characters except one the ability to gain a certain amount of temporary HP & MP. This temporary HP & MP is restored at the beginning of each battle & encourages the use abilities in each battle while still allowing for longer-term resource management (any MP used beyond your temporary pool is lost until you return to the infirmary or use a rare MP restoring item). Attacking enemy weakpoints puts characters in an enhanced state that allows them in the next turn to act first & use abilities free of cost – this is a very rewarding bonus while being drastically less broken than the bonus turn systems that Persona 3 & 4 used. And in general, Persona Q has a very solid ability set as it’s based on both the Etrian Odyssey & Persona series and includes useful ailments, binds, buffs, debuffs, tanking abilities, and more.

The Bad:
Instant kill abilities are too good and allow the player to trivially win most random encounters when properly built for. Persona games limited instant kill spells via MP requirements (you’d eventually run out of MP) and by character restrictions (in Persona 3, the two types of instant kill spells are divided between two characters. In Persona 4, the ally with the great instant kill spells only joins up fairly late in the game & has other weaknesses to compensate for). These limitations could be overcome in Persona 3 & 4 with proper planning & effort but they’re relatively trivial to overcome in Persona Q thanks to the temporary MP system and the greater flexibility in character building & customization. The other major weakness with Persona Q is that with no world map & no real town (the safe area in Persona Q is just a menu for selecting different shops & talking to party members), the game lacks the more pleasant ebb & flow of pacing that a more traditional RPG structure would give.

—Some Lessons to be Learned from these games—

Make sure that your battle system works for both regular & boss encounters. And if it doesn’t, maybe you don’t need regular encounters – hey, it works for many Strategy/RPGs (which often carefully design each and every battle).

Something that works well in one game’s system might turn out to be incredibly broken or unpleasant when transplanted into another system.

Offer difficulty options but try to make sure that in making the game more difficult that you’re not just making it more tedious.

A certain amount of over-poweredness via ability combinations is to be encouraged to give the player something to shoot for & discover. However, be very cautious to avoid combinations that prevent the possibility of losing (perpetual invincibility) and combinations that can be reused for easy victories regardless of the circumstances.

A constant string of battles can become tiresome regardless of the quality of the combat system. World maps to explore, safe areas, story-heavy sections, and mini-games help to break up the flow and make your battles that much more enjoyable when they do occur.

 Posted by at 10:20 am
Dec 192014
 

New Kickstarters:

Aviary Attorney - £6k (£7k goal). 20 days left. Phoenix Wright with animals and artwork from J. J. Grandville.

Yes, Your Grace - £4k (£5k goal). 5 days left. Rule from your throne with this unique take on strategy gaming.

Cube and Me [RE] - $7k ($15k goal). 4 days left. Previously mentioned in the report but failed to make its goal. Hopefully, this time it’ll get a surge at the end.

The Grisaia Trilogy: Three Huge Visual Novels for PC – $248k ($160k goal). 43 days left. Another Japanese->English visual novel project that’s getting a lot of money.

Previous Kickstarters:

Americana Dawn – $24k ($70k goal). 3 days left.

Clannad Official English Release – $305k ($150k goal). 20 days left.

Recently Completed Kickstarters:

Thimbleweed Park – $626k ($375k goal).

Hollow Knight – $57k AUD ($35k AUD goal).

Crossing Souls – $51k ($45k goal).

Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs: Visionary Videogames for Girls – $20k ($20k goal).

Prismata – $141k CAD ($140k CAD goal).

To Azimuth – $14k ($20k goal).

That Dragon, Cancer – $104k ($85k goal).

 Posted by at 11:44 am
Dec 172014
 

Thanks everyone for the kind words in regards to the gameplay video we posted last week. Since we’ve received many questions about the game since then, we decided to put together a FAQ that collects some of the major details about the game.

Cosmic Star Heroine FAQ

When will Cosmic Star Heroine come out?
In 2015 when it’s good & done and when it’s been approved by all platform holders.

What platforms will Cosmic Star Heroine be released on?
PS4 & Vita. Windows/Mac/Linux via Steam & other PC distribution sites (like Humble Store). Also Xbox One.

Will you release Cosmic Star Heroine on other platforms besides those?
Possibly, but if we do, we won’t be adding any platforms until after we’ve already released on those.

Will you sell a physical version of the game?
From what we’ve heard, it’s become much easier to do this now that Retro City Rampage released a physical PS4 copy of the game. With that said, there’s no definite plans in this area at the moment, but we’ll definitely be looking into it at some point.

Will the game have cross-buy & cross-save on the PSN?
It will definitely have cross-buy (buy once and get both the PS4 & Vita versions). We’d like to get cross-save working as well, but we haven’t actually done so yet.

How much will Cosmic Star Heroine cost?
Most likely $10 or $15.

Can I preorder Cosmic Star Heroine?
The Windows/Mac/Linux version of the game can be pre-order from our website (http://zeboyd.com) via the Humble Store.

How long will Cosmic Star Heroine be?
We’re guessing it’ll be in the 15-25 hour range (longer than our longest game to date). We’ll have a better idea close to launch.

How many playable characters are there?
11 total. You’ll be able to use 4 characters at a time. Non-active party members will still gain XP. Some sections of the game will mandate the use of certain characters, otherwise, you’ll be able to freely pick out of the characters you have available (Alyssa stays in as the leader).

Who is making Cosmic Star Heroine?
Bill Stiernberg at Zeboyd Games (Art, Animation, Map Design)
Robert Boyd at Zeboyd Games (Code, Writing, Gameplay Design)
Chris Geehan at Hyperduck Soundworks (Music & Sound Effects)
Dan Byrne-McCullough at Hyperduck Soundworks (Music & Sound Effects)

How much music is in the game?
We’re currently planning on over 40 different songs in the game, not counting cutscene audio.

Cutscenes?
Yes, the game has a number of Sega CD/Turbo-CD inspired cutscenes a la the Lunar series.

What’s the general story premise of the game?
Alyssa L’Salle is a top secret agent for the galactic empire. While she’s on a mission, she discovers some information that the government doesn’t want her to have and so the government reveals her to the world. Will she be able to save the galaxy while everyone is out for her blood?

Will you be stuck on one planet for the entire game?
No, there are 3 main planets that you’ll be adventuring on in Cosmic Star Heroine – Araenu (kind of a cyberpunk vibe), Nuluup (nature & magic), and Rhomu (surface ruined by war with people living in underground cities).

How linear/non-linear will the game be?
Similar to the JRPGs of old, there will be linear sections of the game, as well as more non-linear sections where you’ll be able to freely explore. We have a number of fun optional quests as well that tie into character & world development and many of which take place in areas you don’t visit during the course of the main plot.

How’s combat work?
Combat takes place directly on the exploration maps (no separate battle screen). No random battles; everything is pre-set and some battles can be avoided if you manage to sneak past the enemies. Battles once won tend to stay won, however if you leave a dungeon and return, some battles will respawn (in case you want to get more XP & money).

In combat, there’s no MP. Instead, most abilities you have can only be used once until you use a Defend/Recharge move to restore everything. This encourages the player to not just spam the same moves over and over again but instead think on how best to use their whole arsenal.

Two other features closely govern combat. One, as you choose abilities, your character’s style score goes up and as that goes up, your abilities become more effective. There are also a few “Burst” abilities that you can use that will spend all of your existing style points for one massive effect. Two, every X turns, your characters will go into Hyper mode and abilities will deal double damage and ailments are more likely to work. Plan in advance to take advantage of hyper & style for combat success.

Will there be multiple character combination abilities like in Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star, Suikoden, etc?
Yes. Alyssa will be able to perform 1-2 unique combination moves with each other character. We set it up this way both to make Alyssa more unique as the leader & because having every combination of 2 characters result in unique combination moves was overwhelming with so many playable characters.

How does the base building part of the game work?
At one point in the game, you’ll gain access to a spaceship that will serve as your headquarters. Certain NPCs can be recruited to work for you and may enhance your headquarters in various ways or give your main characters bonuses in combat when equipped as support personnel.

How’s the ability system work?
Each character can equip 7 main abilities & one defend/recharge ability at a time. Characters will also gain ability enhancers that they can equip to certain abilities to increase their potency or add effects. Abilities & enhancers are automatically learned as characters LV-Up.

In addition to innate abilities, characters can take advantage of “programs” that act as additional abilities. Which programs are available depends on the shield they have equipped and the character’s Hackitude stat.

How does the equip system work?
Each character can equip a weapon, a shield, an accessory, and a support personnel. Equipment improves stats, gives the character passive abilities, and in the case of shields and their programs, gives the character additional abilities.

How do stats work?
In addition to HP/MaxHP and your Attack power (based on your weapon) and Defense power (based on your shield), there are 4 main stats for characters in the game.

Physique – This determines the damage that your physical-oriented attacks do. It also affects your HP growth and your defense against physical attacks.
Sparke – This determines the damage that your magic-oriented attacks do. It also affects your maximum style effectiveness (100% at 0 sparke, 200% at 100 sparke) and your defense against magic attacks.
Hackitude – This determines the damage that your tech-oriented attacks do. It is also necessary to unlock more programs (based on which shield you have equipped).
Cunning – This determines the success of ailments & the power of items. It also affects your ailment resistance & gives a small bonus to turn speed.

How do ailments work?
Whether or not an ailment succeeds is not random. Based on the ability used and the character’s stats, a certain amount of “ailment damage” specific to that ailment is done – if this brings the target’s related “ailment HP” to 0, the ailment succeeds. What this means is that if an ability fails to inflict an ailment on the target, that effort isn’t wasted but instead makes it easier for future attempts to succeed.

Ailments in the game include stun (skip a turn), charm (may target allies), vulnerable (takes double damage from the next attack), enrage (targets the last person to hurt them & lowers area attack effectiveness), and disarm (lowers attack power for their next move). There is also a set of 3 ailments that are specific to different enemy types – Poison (Organic only, takes damage every turn), Rust (Robotic only, takes damage & lowers speed), and Curse (Astral only, lowers stats).

Why weren’t there very many sound effects in the demo video?
Because the game isn’t done! The final game will have sound effects in battle, actually useful items in treasure chests, and in general, be more polished than the demo we showed at Playstation Experience.

How hyped should we be for Cosmic Star Heroine?
Very hyped.

 Posted by at 2:17 pm