The original Another Star’s limitations and theme of minimalism led to a lot of interesting decisions that defined it as a game. Some results were positive, such as the unique battle system. Others not so much so, like the strict tile limit for the graphics in a 20 hour RPG.
Villages and towns in the first Another Star were one of the more curious outcomes. They were completely menu-driven. You would walk into a location, get a description of the place, and then select where you wanted to go. Hunting down NPCs for flavor text was replaced with the “news” option in the menu that allowed you to get a bit of backstory, some indication of where to go and what to do, and even some gameplay tips and pointers. The menu-driven towns were a direct result of the tile limit; I couldn’t afford to use up tiles to create a bunch of NPC graphics or furniture. However, it also fit pretty snugly with the game’s theme of minimalism. Locations had been reduced to their most essential base elements, streamlining the entire experience. It was a solution even used by some other games at the time. (I’m reminded of my father playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! on the Commodore 64 when I was a kid.)
Player reactions to the towns in Another Star are possibly among the most divisive issues I come across in the game’s feedback. There are people who absolutely love the classic RPG town experience, and they live to seek out each and every NPC to hear what they have to say, no matter how mundane. For them, Another Star’s town menus were a major let-down. Others quite enjoyed the reduced “drive-thru” town experience. It was easy in Another Star to jump into a town, sell off your loot, rest, buy a couple slots worth of healing dust, and then jump right back out again, all without disrupting the game’s larger flow.
But the menu-driven towns also had a wider, most curious side effect. Because I didn’t have to make any maps for them, it was very easy for me to add a complete town to the game. Very, very easy. As a result, Another Star has maybe a hundred individual towns, cities, and villages spread across its world. The starting area alone has a good twelve menu-driven locations you can visit (only two of which are hidden). Furthermore, because of the lack of maps or visible NPCs, each location could be as big or as small as it needed to be. Instead of a vast, sprawling metropolis of a dozen people aimlessly shambling back and forth down a single street, I could just say there were tens of thousands of people and be done with it. Because we never see them directly, from the game’s own descriptions the world of Another Star can be assumed to have a semi-realistic population count for its size and technology level. This affected the game and its story more than I think people realize.
However, there were things lost in the trade-off. All these towns were reduced to flavor text. You could tell a location’s size by the relative number of huts it had on the overworld, but that was really all you actually saw of it. Every place was varied and unique, but you could only read about them and imagine what they must look like. In such a visual medium as video games, that’s kind of disappointing.
It’s now getting close to the time for me to begin properly implementing villages and towns in the sequel, so I had to start really thinking about how I wanted them to work. Like with so many other aspects of the game, I decided that a simple mockup would be the best way to plan this.
Another Star 2, even if it doesn’t end up being a direct sequel to Another Star, will at the very least be a spiritual follow-up to that game. I want this game to continue the first game’s tradition of numerous and varied locations, set in a world that has a semi-realistic population count. Menu-driven towns are the best way I can think of to achieve that in a simple top-down 2d tile-based game. Bringing the town menus back achieves both that, and, by building on the original game’s menu system, allows the game to feel more like a proper, connected sequel. (Some games, especially modern RPGs starting from the PlayStation era, accomplish much the same thing by roping off your exploration to just a small section of a town or city, but that usually feels arbitrary to me and I didn’t want to go that route.)
The first thing that needed to change was that we needed to see where we were. Adding a big graphic hits that nail right on the head. Just by looking at the mockup screen, without reading anything, you can tell the player is in a small-ish rural village. The power poles indicate that, even though they seem somewhat primitive from the thatch roofing, they have some level of advanced technology; a mix of medieval and modern that you’ll likely see a lot of in this game. Ideally each location would have its own, unique graphic, but it will all come down to how much work it is to do hundreds of them in a reasonable amount of time.
Another thing I did was set the background to a nice blue color instead of pitch black. It makes the location feel more inviting, I think, although I’m not sure if every location would have the same color, or if maybe it changes from place to place.
Finally, you’ll notice that the player character is talking about what they’ve come across. In Another Star, locations were described in the third person by a disembodied narrator. Another Star 2 is meant to be a more visual, active game, so I wanted to reduce the use of a narrator in places where I could instead show something, or have the characters themselves directly express something. Ideally, when you arrive at a location, you’ll hear from one of the characters instead of reading about how “Tachi did this” or “Tachi saw that”.
The menu itself hasn’t changed much, other than the fact the character now gives a short description of each location when you highlight it. Before you had to guess at the meaning of new or unique options. I have mixed feelings about how much real estate the menu is taking up in this mockup, but at least the player would have already seen the full graphic at this point. The “news” option returns, although I may spice it up a bit—more on that another time, though. The other options, “shop”, “tavern”, and “leave” should be likewise familiar.
However, there’s one unusual option among them that’s not a carryover from the first game: “town square”. Players of the first game may initially think this is the game’s version of the clan chief mechanic, but it’s not. If you were to select it, you’d get something like this:
A small area of the village you can run around. You can’t randomly barge into people’s homes and steal their stuff as they compliment your heroics, and it’s only a very small portion of the village, so in a lot of ways I suppose it’s very much like the alternate solution I discussed earlier. However, not every location has a town square. This is a unique feature to this particular village. Other locations may have their own unique locations.
They aren’t meant to replace the “news” option in the town menu. Instead they are primarily planned for story purposes. These would usually be places you have to go in order to progress either the main story or a side quest, so anything NPCs have to say in these places would likely be tied directly to the side quest instead of the more general advice and dialog of the news option. (Also, other reasons, but again, I don’t want to discuss that until I’m closer to implementing and playtesting it.) This isn’t really meant to be a “best of both worlds” solution, because I don’t think people missing classic RPG towns will be fully satisfied with this. However, it should add a little flavor and uniqueness to each location, and it gives a place for story scenes within a location to play out. (In the first game they were usually narrated, which tended to be sort of tacky.)
Perhaps every location will have a least one of these unique explorable areas? I don’t know yet. I’m still working to get my tools set up so that I can generate a lot of good content very quickly. How many of these areas get added depends entirely on how much trouble they are to get up and running.