Dec 132013

There has long been a myth that if you were able to get your indie title on Steam, you’d be successful and make a lot of money. Now, don’t get me wrong – indie titles do traditionally sell better on Steam than they do elsewhere (although better than next to nothing may still be next to nothing) but being on Steam is no guarantee of success. As Valve lowers their barrier to entry, it’s going to become more and more difficult for individual games to get noticed and find financial success. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to discuss some of the various strategies developers can take to improve their chances of being noticed (which is essential to having a commercially successful game – no one’s buying games they’ve never heard of).

The Cynical Strategy – Clone a popular game and try to ride its coattails. Alternatively, use manipulative psychology to coerce people into paying more for your game than they originally intended. I disapprove of this strategy so let’s move on.

The Price Strategy – Price your game lower than the competition and attract buyers looking for a bargain. This was a very useful strategy a few years ago but now there’s a glut of cheap & free games on the market so a low price is no longer much of a talking price. However, this strategy is still very useful when used in the form of publicized short-term sales.

The Brute Force Strategy – Spend tons of money on marketing so that people can’t help but hear about your game. Alternatively, have or gain the rights to a super popular IP.

The Quality Strategy – Make a game that’s better than the competition in one or more ways. Here’s where I think a lot of indie developers stumble. It’s not enough to make a game that’s “good for an indie.” It’s not even enough to make a game that’s just plain good. If you’re trying to use quality to gain attention, your game needs to be AMAZING.

The Niche Strategy – Find a niche that is underserved and serve it. The important thing here is that just finding an unpopular genre isn’t going to do you any good – some genres are unpopular for a reason. The key is finding a genre or subgenre that has a fanbase that feels neglected. In short, find a genre where demand exceeds supply. For us, we’ve found the turn-based RPG genre to be a good fit – big companies are all focused on Action/RPGs and RPG hybrids these days, and there aren’t many indie devs making high quality RPGs so there’s not much competition. Alternatively, this approach can be taken to platforms as well (which is why launch titles on new systems often do better than they would have otherwise).

The Creative Strategy – Make a game that doesn’t really fit into existing genres so that you essentially have no competition (until clones arise). This is a gamble as wildly creative games often fail to take off, but it can pay off greatly if your game catches the public’s imagination. Minecraft is a great example of this strategy. More recently, Papers, Please managed to pull this off – a depressing, story-focused bureaucracy simulator hardly sounds like a bestseller, but it got people talking and ended up selling really well. Alternatively, you can use the creative strategy to a lesser extent by having a unique gimmick in your game.

Of course, you get even better chances of success when you combine strategies. Take Telltale for example. They’ve found great success in recent years by combining the niche strategy (visual novels with light puzzle solving) with the brute force strategy (popular IPs like The Walking Dead). There are higher quality visual novel/puzzle games out there (Ghost Trick, Ace Attorney, 999/VLR), but through the use of high profile IPs, Telltale has managed to find much more success than other strategies to the genre. In fact, they have probably even managed to increase the audience for these kinds of games.

If you look at our most successful game – Cthulhu Saves the World – you can see that it uses almost all of these strategies to various degrees:
Brute Force – Popular IP in the form of Cthulhu (which happens to be public domain so we could use it)
Price – $3 (back in 2010-2011 on home consoles & PC before the freemium wave had really reached its peak)
Niche – Turn-based console-style RPG
Creative – Eldritchian horror as farce
Quality – Well, I happen to think it’s a really good game. 🙂

The indie game field is just going to get more and more competitive as time goes on. It’s not enough to just make a good game; you need to have a strategy if you don’t want to get lost in the crowd.

 Posted by at 11:41 am
Oct 152013

If you’ve played our other games, you probably know that we love buffs (abilities that boost or otherwise improve a character temporarily). We continue to love buffs, but we realize that they were a bit overpowered in our other games so we have two small but important changes to fix that.

First, characters will only be able to have a limited number (probably starting at 3 though in a few rare cases, you’ll be able to increase that) of buffs active at once. If an additional buff is cast on a character beyond that amount, it’ll replace the oldest active buff. In our previous games, there was no limit to the number of different buffs you could stack on a single character.

Second, most buffs will have a limited duration of X number of turns (although there are ways to increase that turn count). In the past, most of our buffs lasted for the rest of the battle.

We think those two changes should make buffs a bit more balanced in Cosmic Star Heroine (and allow us to do more interesting things with them). And beyond these balance changes, we’re also going to make it easier for the player to quickly see which buffs are currently active on their characters.

Now let’s talk a little about two of the more buff-heavy masteries in the game: Alyssa’s Leadership Mastery and Chahn’s Friendship Mastery. Although both masteries focus on supporting the party in various ways, it was important to us to make sure that each one felt unique & went well with each character’s personality.

Alyssa’s Leadership mastery is very active for a support mastery. She’s meant to actively lead her party in the thick of battle rather than hanging back from behind. Here are a few of her Leadership abilities…

Lead by Example: Passive. Whenever Alyssa defeats an enemy, the party restores some HP.
Cheer Up. Buff. Target ally regains some HP. They also get a bonus to all Stats for 1 turn.
Confidence: Passive. Alyssa gets a +10% bonus to all stats as long as no one in her party has been defeated in this battle.
All-Out Assault. Special Effect. All ally attacks & abilities deal 50% more damage this turn.
From the Shadows. Buff. Party gets a boost to Cunning for 3 turns.

In contrast, Chahn’s Friendship mastery is much more of a traditional support mastery. Through her giving nature, she actually becomes more powerful the more she helps other members of the group. A few of her Friendship abilities include…

Fortify Mind: Buff. Increases magic defense. 4 turns.
Best Friends Forever: Buff. The Best Friends Forever buff does not expire. Other buffs on this character last for 2 additional turns.
Sharing: Passive. Whenever Chahn places a buff on an ally, she also gains that same buff.
Economize: Buff. Reduces MP costs by X points.

All in all, the mastery system & related abilities are proving to be very fun to design. We could make some really interesting characters just by using a single mastery, but when you take into account that each character will have 3 masteries to choose from, plus further customization through things like equipment, there should be a ton of fun depth to explore with the various characters. 🙂

Oh and by the way, the Cosmic Star Heroine kickstarter has reached its goal! And there’s still a little over 2 weeks left in case you want to help it shoot up even further.

 Posted by at 3:50 pm
Oct 112013

Previous Kickstarters

Cosmic Star Heroine – $96k ($100k goal). 19 days left. This is our Kickstarter!
Alteil Horizons – $41k ($100k goal). Failed.
Hyper Light Drifter – $582k. 1 day left.
River City Ransom: Underground – $217k CAD. Finished.
The Long Dark – $185k CAD ($200k CAD goal). 4 days left.
DCS WWII: Europe 1944 – $158k. Finished
Citizens of Earth – $26k CAD ($100k goal). 8 days left.
Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim – $16k ($30k goal). 14 days left.
Comic ConQuest – $11k ($20k goal). 11 day left.
GoD Factory – $27k CAD ($70k goal). 6 days left.

New Kickstarters

Faëria – Strategy Card Game – $30k raised ($70k goal). About 770 backers. 29 days left to go. Board + Card Game meets Strategy game. Looks fun with quality presentation values.

Indie Van Game Jam – $3k raised ($46k goal). About 40 backers. 25 days left. Game jams + Indie documentary + TV show! Interesting idea, though it’ll need a big burst of backers if they want to reach their goal.

Cosmic Star Heroine Update

We’ve posted a number of updates on the Kickstarter update page, but I wanted to share the new screenshot we uploaded today again. 🙂


 Posted by at 2:41 pm
Sep 302013

Hi everyone! We got approval from kickstarter so we’re making the Cosmic Star Heroine kickstarter go live tomorrow morning at around 9 am!

We’re really excited! We’ve been working on preparing this kickstarter for the past few months and can’t wait to show it off! If you like what you see and want to see us continue to improve with each game, please donate! $10 will get you a copy of the game on the format of your choice – PSN (PS4/Vita), Steam (PC/Mac), or DRM-Free PC/Mac – and there are plenty of other fun rewards to be had at the various levels. And just as important as your own support is to help spread the word. Tell your friends who might be interested, post the news on forums, mention the game on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, and more! The more people find out about the game, the more money we raise, the more freedom we’ll have in developing our best game yet!

And once again, thank you for all of your support over the years! We couldn’t have done this without you! Let’s make Cosmic Star Heroine our best game yet!

 Posted by at 5:18 pm
Sep 032013

As we get ready to launch the Cosmic Star Heroine kickstarter, I thought it would be useful to go back and look at the development timeline for our previous games.

The Early Years
Xbox Live Community Games Program introduced – November 19, 2008
Epiphany in Spaaace! released on XBLIG – October 20, 2009
Molly the Were-Zompire released on XBLIG – December 10, 2009

When Microsoft announced that anyone would be able to create and release games on the Xbox 360, I was ecstatic. I looked into the program immediately although my first released game wouldn’t come out until nearly a year later. Surprisingly enough, the first game I worked on for XBLIG actually ended up being my second release – Molly got failed out of peer review several times (often for IMO ridiculous reasons like Guitar controller problems – it’s a text-based game!) so while I was waiting to put it back in peer review, I made Epiphany in Spaaace! using the same engine. Then after Epiphany in Spaaace! came out, I went back and made a few minor improvements to Molly before releasing it a few weeks later.

Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
Teamed up with Bill Stiernberg – Sometime in January 2010 (no longer have the original PM)
Extremely rough design document – January 26, 2010
First In-Game Art Asset Finished – January 26, 2010
Released on XBLIG – April 22, 2010
Total Time in Development (Part-Time) – 3 months

Even today, I’m shocked that we were able to finish Breath of Death VII so quickly. Here we were, never having made anything of this scope before & never having worked together before, with no clue if we were even capable of finishing an RPG, and we did it in the space of about 12 weeks.

Cthulhu Saves the World
Original idea pitched to Bill – April 22, 2010
Design Document Finished – May 18, 2010
First In-Game Art Asset Finished – May 30, 2010
Released on XBLIG – December 30, 2010
Enhanced version released on Steam – July 13, 2011
Total Time in Development (Part-Time) – 8 months (Doesn’t count enhancements or PC port)

Cthulhu Saves the World was a much more ambitious project than Breath of Death VII – drastically longer with more playable characters, better visuals, more enemies (each of which required a second sprite for their insane version), frequent cutscenes and more. And so it ended up taking a lot longer to make!

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3
First contacted by Penny Arcade – July 14, 2010
First Art Asset Finished – October 7, 2010
Design Document – November 20, 2010
Early Battle Prototype – July 6, 2011
Released on Steam – June 25, 2012
Total Time in Development (Full-Time) – 11 months

Precipice of Darkness 3 has the most convoluted development timeline of all of our games. We were first contacted about doing it when we were still in the middle of making Cthulhu Saves the World. At the time, we thought we were almost done with Cthulhu Saves the World but the game just kept taking more and more time to make and then once it was finished, we decided to make some enhancements and port it to the PC; since Penny Arcade wanted Precipice 3 to come out on PC, we figured we might as well figure out how to get our games working on the PC early on so that we could use money from the PC versions to help develop Precipice 3. This turned out to be the right call since Cthulhu Saves the World on PC has turned out to be our biggest seller to-date and marked the moment when we were able to turn game development into a full-time job.

Precipice of Darkness 3’s development was probably the most difficult out of all of our games. We had never collaborated with another group before and with Precipice 3, we were working with TWO groups – Penny Arcade & Tinkerhouse Games (they handled the mobile versions). This ended up slowing things down, especially since they requested that we make some major changes to our engine to make it more user-friendly for Tinkerhouse (as a self-taught programmer who works alone, my code wasn’t exactly the easiest or optimal for others). Plus, we made the big mistake of planning on some innovative gameplay ideas and not bothering to test them until late in development – turns out that many of the ideas didn’t actually work well in practice so we had to make some major changes at the last minute. If we had tested those ideas early on, we could have realized that they weren’t going to work (or spend a lot of time fine-tuning them until they DID work) which would have resulted in a much smoother development.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
First art asset done – September 27, 2012
Released on Steam – June 7, 2013
Total time in development (Full-Time) – 8 months

Note, there was a bit of a gap between Precipice of Darkness 3’s release and starting on 4 since we took some time off and spent some time working on the Precipice of Darkness 3 free DLC.

Precipice of Darkness 4 was probably the smoother development cycle we’ve had other than Breath of Death VII. Since it was a direct sequel to an existing game; we didn’t spend too much time reinventing the wheel (with the switch from classes to playable monsters and a traditional world map being the biggest changes). Instead, we focused on content creation – the game is our biggest game to date with our best visuals & music despite only taking about 2/3rds of a year to complete.

Cosmic Star Heroine
First art asset – July 2, 2013
Estimated release date – August- December, 2014
Estimated time in development – 14-18 months

We started really working on Cosmic Star Heroine in July, although we’ve been planning the game out since 2012 (I don’t remember exactly when). It’s scheduled for release in the second half of 2014. We’re planning on spending significantly longer on Cosmic Star Heroine than any of our other games. The exact amount of time is still flexible to give us some elbow room for unforseen circumstances AND also to allow us to spend a little extra time on polishing up the game if we get substantially more money than our initial kickstarter goal of $100k. I really hate it when kickstarter projects get drastically overfunded and then decide to push the release date way back – if we state that the game will come out by December 2014, aim for an August release with the initial $100k goal and then push the goal back a month or two if we get a lot more funds than expected (with an extra month or two for safety), we should be fine. If we do get additional funding, those extra funds can be used for that extra month or two of development, hiring additional art/programming help, more music & sound effects, and maybe even a post-release free DLC scenario (since I think that’s a good way to use extra funds without delaying the launch of the game).

 Posted by at 4:01 pm
Sep 022013

Generally speaking, the response to our Cosmic Star Heroine teaser trailer was very positive. Sure, there were some people who just used the announcement as an excuse to complain about indie games or try to start system wars, but most people were very positive. Of course, some people had some legitimate questions about our announcement & why we’ve done things this way so I thought I’d take this opportunity to address them.

Why no PS3 version?

It just doesn’t make economic sense. From talking to other developers, it’s obvious that sales on current generation systems (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) are dropping fast as people start to lose interest in the older systems and turn their attention to the newer ones. If our game was almost done or we had prior experience working on the PS3, it’d be a different story, but we don’t. A new digitally distributed game coming out in the second half of 2014 is unlikely to do well on the PS3 but more importantly, it makes no sense whatsoever to try to release any followups on the PS3 since the system is likely to be completely dead in 2015 or 2016. The PS3 is a dead end. Conversely, if Cosmic Star Heroine does well on the PS4 & Vita, those systems ought to last long enough that we can use our knowledge of developing for them to release additional games on those platforms before those platforms are replaced with even newer platforms.

If you’re using Unity, why not release it on everything?

If only it was that easy. Unity makes it easier to release on multiple platforms but there’s still work involved. For example, porting a PC game to mobile can involve extensive work as you often need to completely redo the user interface & text (smaller screen size), the controls (touch vs. keyboard/mouse/controller), and possibly do extensive optimization work for things like less RAM. And porting a game to a new console involves a whole set of possible issues – you need to work out the contracts between the developer & platform holder, you have to make sure that your game fulfills all of the platform-specific rules that the platform holder has in place, etc. And then once the game is running on a new platform, you still need to extensively test that particular version to make sure that there aren’t any platform-specific bugs that need to be fixed.

Early on, we decided that in addition to our “home base” of PC, we wanted to add a console & a portable option. We chose the PS4 & Vita for a number of reasons such as…

The Vita’s my favorite portable system & in every generation since the PS1, the Playstation console has ended up being my favorite console (since it usually ends up getting more RPGs than the other home consoles).
People at Sony have been actively talking to us & trying to get our games on their systems since mid-2012. Nintendo & Microsoft have mostly been ignoring us.
The deal that Sony offered us was very favorable and still allowed us to release at the same time on non-consoles (PC, Mac, Steam, etc.) so we’re not abandoning our fans on the PC (and judging from our recent XBLIG sales, most of our Xbox fans have already jumped to PC).
Our primary Sony contact, Shane Bettenhausen, is awesome, loves JRPGs, and really appreciates what we’re trying to do here (huge Phantasy Star fan).

There is still a possibility that we’ll decide to port Cosmic Star Heroine to other platforms in 2015 but we really felt like trying to release on day 1 on PC, Mac, PS4, and Vita was all the stress we could personally handle at one time.

If Sony is so supportive, why are you still doing kickstarter?

We’ve been planning on doing a kickstarter for this game for months and we all decided that it would be best to just go along with our original plan. And if by some wildly unlikely circumstances, we managed to talk Sony into fully funding Cosmic Star Heroine (which I think is unlikely since when you get down to it, we are still a fairly niche small indie team), such funding probably wouldn’t have come without strings attached. They would own the IP (whoever funds the game gets the IP is how things usually work), we would have to spend a lot more time justifying any design decisions to their financial teams (who care about the bottom line more than quality or originality), launching on PC simultaneously would be impossible, and ports in general would be much more difficult. It felt like we would probably have to make too many sacrifices for it to be worth it so we’ll just do a kickstarter later this month and hope for the best. Sony is helping us out in many ways while still respecting our autonomy so I’m very pleased with our current arrangement.

Why is Sony focusing so much on indie developers? They should get more AAA games!

Sony getting more indie developers doesn’t hurt their ability ability to get more AAA games; it just means that they get more games period. Your typical AAA game could easily cost tens of millions of dollars whereas your typical indie developer is working on a shoestring budget and so even a small bit of help (like a free dev kit or some extra marketing) can be a HUGE aid. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of Sony’s recent indie outreach efforts to-date have cost them far less than funding a single additional AAA game would have cost & they’ve gotten so much more out of it (dozens of indie games with more on the way plus a lot of good publicity).

Why isn’t your teaser trailer more authentic?

There’s a small purist group that occasionally get annoyed at us because our visuals aren’t authentic enough for 16-bit era or we’re not using chiptunes for our music. I think it’s important to realize that our end goal is not and never has been to make authentic retro games. Our goal is to make fun & enjoyable games without going over budget and we use elements of retro games when they help us reach that goal. So for example, we tend to not be sticklers on using the exact same color palette that certain 16-bit systems used or we might go ahead and use effects that weren’t common back then. Likewise, we don’t have unlimited funds or time so like with the teaser trailer, if we had an extra month or two we could have added some new scenes & improved some rough spots, but eventually, you need to say “This is good enough” and start working on other things.

I think the teaser trailer did a good job teasing the game world & some of the characters while being reminiscent of the Sega CD era so mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned! 🙂

Why no gameplay footage?

Because we thought it would be a fun change of pace to make an animated opener to stick in the game before the title screen! Plus it was really fun to work on something with our friend & fellow indie developer, Dean Dodrill (Dust: An Elysian Tail). We will be sharing gameplay visuals this month so at least you won’t have to wait long. We also shared some in-game visuals of the current playable characters in the Playstation Blog article last week and you should be able to glean some gameplay info from the teaser trailer (like the fact that one of your playable characters has the ability to summon & control guns with her mind powers). And in any case, we’ve already released 4 games at a relatively quick rate (and the two most recent ones are even currently on sale on Steam if you want to check them out) AND we’ve posted several articles on our site discussing Cosmic Star Heroine’s gameplay so you should be able to get a ballpark idea of the gameplay even now. But you won’t have to wait long for more information.

Have more questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments!

 Posted by at 8:55 am
Aug 272013

Next up in our series of classic RPGs that have inspired us in our game development – Chrono Trigger!

Chrono Trigger was Square’s big finale (in the US anyway) for the SNES. Larger & more detailed sprites, on-map battles, an amazing soundtrack, a fun & crazy plot involving time travel and time paradoxes, and a colorful cast of characters (some of whom had really stupid names like Robo & Frog) were some of the highlights.

But what really stands out to me the most about Chrono Trigger is just how fast-paced it is. Despite the reputation for grinding that some of the earliest RPGs rightly acquired (Dragon Warrior 1 & 2, Final Fantasy 1 being big examples), a lot of earlier RPGs are briskly paced compared to your average modern-day RPG. Games like Final Fantasy IV and Suikoden I show that you can have an epic adventure in under 20 hours when you keep things from getting overly complicated. 20 hours in a modern RPG? I think that’ll get you about halfway through Persona 4’s opening cutscene (Just kidding! I love you Persona 4!).

With that said, Chrono Trigger is about as fast as you can make an RPG without turning it into Half-Minute Hero or cutting out all non-story battles out entirely. The game is constantly throwing out new worlds, new plot twists, and more to keep the player entertained over the course of a game that is unlikely to take anyone more than 25 hours (and that’s if you take your time & do all the optional content as well).

So how is Chrono Trigger likely to influence us as we develop Cosmic Star Heroine?

Good example on how to make on-map battles work from a technical & design perspective.
Pacing, pacing, pacing!
Great variety of locations & scenarios.
Multi-character combo techniques!
Keep basic systems relatively simple & add depth through abilities & situations.
Replay value through New Game+.

 Posted by at 7:07 pm
Aug 262013

Thought it would be fun to do a series of articles discussing some of our major inspirations from the past that we’re keeping in mind as we create Cosmic Star Heroine. And what better game to kick off the series than with my all-time favorite 16-bit RPG, Lunar: Eternal Blue!

Much of Lunar: EB’s appeal was its status as one of the first CD-based JRPGs (and one that came out a good 2-3 years before Final Fantasy 7 really wowed people with technology). Frequent anime-style cutscenes, voiced dialogue in key scenes, and a stunning soundtrack (which remains one of my favorites) were some of the highlights of this new CD-based world. The PS1 version of the game is probably better than the Sega CD version overall and well worth playing even now – it’s not the huge upgrade that Lunar: Silver Star Story received but on the other hand, the original game didn’t need it – but you miss out on just how revolutionary the game was at the time if you didn’t play it soon after it originally came out.

But what really struck me with Lunar: Eternal Blue was its characters. Lunar: Eternal Blue marked a major milestone in my life as an fan of RPGs – it made me realize just how badly the writing & characters in other RPGs were at the time. Yes, Earthbound had some fun dialogue (although none of the characters were well developed) and the SNES Final Fantasy games had some entertaining character archetypes, but compared to the competition, Lunar: Eternal Blue blew everything else away. A good translation (out-of-place pop culture jokes aside) and characters that actually had a voice really helped but I think the key is all the incidental dialogue they threw into the game. Not only would characters talk to each other in major story scenes (which was rare enough in and of itself back then) but you’d talk to a random person in some town and it might trigger a big discussion from some of your party members that would help to show off their personalities.

So how is Lunar: EB likely to influence us while developing Cosmic Star Heroine?

Emphasis on fun, colorful cast of characters.
Focus on dialogue quality.
Try to somewhat separate the drama & the comedy aspects of the game so that they don’t interfere with each other (In Lunar: EB, most of the comedy was in the incidental stuff while the main plot was usually serious).
Make the world feel like it has a history (but unlike many Western RPGs, don’t bore the player by spelling out that history in huge tracts of text).
Awesome soundtrack (you can already hear some Lunar: EB inspired songs in some of our previous games like in the final boss battle theme in Precipice of Darkness 4).
And if we think we can pull it off on our budget & schedule, maybe some cool Sega CD-style animated cutscenes for key story moments. 🙂

 Posted by at 5:14 pm
Aug 192013

When we were working on Breath of Death VII way back at the start of 2010, the goal was simple – Make a real game. I’ve desperately wanted to make an RPG ever since I first played Dragon Warrior back in Elementary School and spent many a day drawing up maps & creating stories to games that would never be made. Though I had briefly tried to make a mini-RPG before as a teenager (the laughably bad Rainbow Despair), I abandoned my dream of making an RPG in college to try to get a “real job.” Many years passed and I realized my earlier decision to not make games had been stupid, decided to make Breath of Death VII, and talked Bill Stiernberg into teaming up with me even though I didn’t have much in the way of a development resume (a couple text-based XBLIGs being the highlights). Since we were both pretty new to game development at that time, we decided early on that we’d pare the RPG genre down to its bare fundamentals, keep the length short, add some jokes, remove the more annoying bits of old-school RPGs, and call it a day. I remember how excited I was when we managed to get character successfully walking through a map or get the battle system working, which might not seem like much, but hey, they were big milestones for me. In the end, we made the game in 3 months, people seemed to like it and it paved the way for bigger & better things.

Funny enough, Cthulhu Saves the World’s initial goal was “Make a quick game in a couple months that’ll make more money so that we can make the big ambitious game that we really want” but we liked the idea for Cthulhu Saves the World so much that it went from a small funding project and turned into a project we were really passionate about. Cthulhu Saves the World ended up taking us about three times as long as Breath of Death VII (and then a few more month to port to PC & add some extra features) – a far cry from a game that we initially thought we’d be able to do in 2 months. From Cthulhu Saves the World, we learned the dangers of not using your time wisely – we ended up spending large amounts of time trying to get certain things to work that in the end we could have used much more effectively elsewhere.

With Precipice of Darkness 3, our goal was to try out several experimental gameplay ideas. The vast majority of these ideas eventually got scrapped but what ended up staying worked well (specifically the new MP system). With Precipice of Darkness 3, we learned that the more innovative the idea, the earlier you need to test it, because an idea that sounds great on paper can end up having unforseen negative consequences where you’re not expecting.

With Precipice of Darkness 4, our goal was to focus on content creation. This worked out well – despite taking less time to make than the 3rd game, the 4th game is a drastically larger game. With Precipice of Darkness 4, we learned that making our engine & routines efficient was even more important than adding new features – all of the cool features in the world don’t matter if they take too much time to develop content for them.

And of course, with each game, we also had the goal of improving our visuals. I think we’ve succeeded on this account – BoDVII looks reminiscent of an 8-bit game, CSTW of an early 16-bit game, and Precipice 3 & 4 look like mid-to-late generation 16-bit games.

So with Cosmic Star Heroine, what is our goal? Part of it is to see just how far we can push 16-bit conventions, but a much larger part of it is something much more selfish – to finally create that “perfect” game for me. Like I’m sure many of you, I always have this vague idea at the back of my head that there’s a perfect RPG just waiting for me to play it, but I haven’t found it yet. Chances are it hasn’t even been made yet. And though I’d love for somebody else to make that game so I could play it and be completely surprised, when you get down to it, the most likely way to get your own perfect game is to go out and make it yourself. That’s not to say that we weren’t excited for each of our ideas before – I LOVE EVERY SINGLE ONE OF OUR GAMES! – but there was always this feeling at the back of my head that we weren’t up to the challenge of working on one of my dream projects and that we should save them for when we were more experienced and could really do them justice. Well, that time has come. It’s time to start pulling out all the stops. It’s time to stop being afraid that we’re not good enough. It’s time to give it our all. It’s time to make Cosmic Star Heroine.

And when Cosmic Star Heroine is finished, it’ll be time to make the next amazing “perfect” game.

 Posted by at 4:16 pm
Aug 152013

Standard disclaimer: Cosmic Star Heroine is currently under development. Any ideas mentioned in this & other articles may be modified or discarded before the game comes out.

Why do the stores near the start of the game have cheap, low-quality equipment and the stores near the final dungeon have the best equipment money can buy? It’s one of those small details that can hurt a game’s overall world building. A few RPGs have tackled this problem by offering stores that LV-Up with the player (Atelier Ayesha & Tales of Xillia to mention two that I’ve played this year) & since I’m all for giving the player more things they can LV-Up, I think we’ll do something along those lines in Cosmic Star Heroine.

Here’s how I think it’ll work.

Stores are owned by huge mega-corporations & each comporation specializes in a certain type of good that you’ll need in your adventure like weapons, armor, shields, and items. By raising your LV with each corporation, you gain more and more exclusive VIP Membership statuses within each organization. The higher your LV, the higher quality goods you’ll be able to buy & the lower prices you’ll be offered. Also upon reaching certain milestone LVs, you’ll be given special Loyalty rewards as a gift (like a free unique piece of equipment you can’t get any other way).

There are a number of ways you’ll be able to gain XP with each corporation – buying items from their stores, bribing them with money or valuable items, completing certain quests, or hiring someone to hack their client database to make you look better. Plus, you’ll gradually gain XP with all corporations just by playing the game as your reputation & power grow (power attracts power after all).

In addition to the standard shops, there will also be a Black Market that will work in a similar way where you’ll be able to spend your money on purchases of a more… questionable nature. Mwahahahaha!

 Posted by at 3:59 pm