Lately, I’ve been working on a new tileset. This will be used for many of the ruins dotted across the world of Byo, built by all sorts of past civilizations that have come and gone.
Ruins can be kind of tricky to get right with low resolution tile-based graphics, because if they look too nice and uniform then they just look like slightly run-down castles instead of crumbling ruins being slowly reclaimed by vegetation. I’ve been looking at Star Ocean: Blue Sphere a lot lately for inspiration on this. It’s a Game Boy Color game that never left Japan, and it has some really nice looking ruins (well actually, it has some really nice looking everything). That game’s graphics show what you can accomplish even on a grid with limited colors.
Some of my biggest progress in the past week has been finally hooking rooms up to the battle system. Encounters now trigger, and you can accept them as in the first game to begin a battle. After the battle, you get experience and loot, and are returned to the room to continue exploring. So far every battle is exactly the same because enemy parties haven’t been properly implemented, and your HP isn’t tracked between battles because the characters aren’t actually in your party, but it’s starting to feel like a real game at last. (I even find myself reflexively pressing the A button as soon as I hear the ambush alert sound, even though ambushes don’t begin on their own yet.)
I began Another Star 2 about a year and a half ago. While I haven’t been working on the game that whole time, a great chunk of that year and a half has been dedicated towards this one project. It can get a little frustrating when it takes so long for something to bear fruit. The first Another Star was playable within just hours, and could be played from beginning to end within a few months. (Completing it took much longer, though; about nine months all together.)
But with Another Star 2 I’m only now getting the map system and battle system to tie into each other. Granted, I spent a lot of time building a new engine for Another Star 2 in C++, while the majority of the first game’s basic code was put together long before I began work on it. Still, this is taking a lot longer than it should. Even ignoring the time I spent before rebooting the engine, I’ve poured a lot of work into this with very little to show for it.
It’s time to change all that.
Early on in Another Star’s development, I put up a very early version of the game for download, jokingly calling it a “leaked” version. It was unpolished and had lots of bugs and typos, but it was complete up through about the third or fourth dungeon. I wasn’t having very much luck with finding people who wanted to playtest the game for me at that point, so this was sort of my last-ditch effort to get feedback. I was hoping a few people would try it out, but to my surprise it really took off. (Granted, I assumed “now they’re interested and will buy it when it’s released” instead of continuing to post about the game and keep those people engaged, but that’s another topic for another day.)
I’d like to do some similar things with this game. The first phase of that will be a preview build of the game. This won’t be a full “leaked” release containing lots of unfinished dungeons. It will be more like a small demo in that, while incomplete, it will have some level of polish and be self-contained with an achievable end goal. I suppose this is akin to what many professional developers call a “vertical slice”. The idea here is that the demo will be centered around a single small dungeon. It will give players a chance to try out the game, get interested, and give feedback. It also allows me to figure out how to streamline content creation so that I can churn out the assets for the full game. It will also help me decide what constitutes a “small” dungeon, how big a “full” dungeon should be, and how many the final game needs. This preview build won’t be long. Maybe a half hour at most, and I think most of that will be just from getting used to a new game and trying things out.
Since I now have something to work towards, instead of aimlessly deciding what to work on next I can map out definite tasks that need to be completed. RPGs are really difficult to boil down to their essentials, because they need so many different components to work together before they are all that interesting. Thinking it over, I believe the following things need to be done in order to release this preview build. In no particular order:
- The preview build needs a small, non-linear dungeon to explore. I have a rough layout planned, and am already playing with room layouts to figure out how build they should be. Because the player character can run, and because the characters are larger than the first game, rooms may need to be rather big in order to avoid feeling cramped.
- The dungeon needs a couple of tilesets to build these rooms out of. (This part is mostly done; the outside tileset for the ruins is the only one I haven’t done any work on yet.)
- There should be optional areas and secrets to find, encouraging the player to explore, and making the dungeon feel more like a real place instead of a simple obstacle course.
- There needs to be a variety of enemies. The enemies have to be drawn and animated, and they have to formed into enemy parties (called “formations” in the As2Tool editor). The game also needs to decide on which formation to use from several possibilities per room.
- There should be a challenging end boss for the dungeon. Of course, they have to be bigger and more impressive than normal enemies, because that’s what makes them a boss!
- There needs to be a battle background or two for the ruins. Right now, the only backgrounds in the game are tests from early in the game’s development, and they don’t match the direction that the art style has been going. (Also, none of them are ruins.)
- Battles need to be further fleshed out. Right now, all either side can do is attack. The foundation of the enemy AI also needs to be implemented.
- There needs to be a full party to play with. That means three playable characters need to have a full set of animations for moving around, and for battle. Thus far, no playable characters have more than a handful of frames. Ridley, the game’s main character, will be one of the party members in the preview build. I haven’t decided yet who the other two will be. Ideally, they should bring a good balance to the team, because the player’s customization options for them are going to be super-limited compared to the finished game.
- There needs to be a few different pieces of music, though they don’t have to be 100% finished. Most needed are: the dungeon’s theme, a battle theme, and a victory theme. These three all exist in varying states, but I don’t think the dungeon theme or battle theme are ready even for the preview build.
- Items and equipment need to be implemented. It won’t be much fun to explore if there isn’t anything to find as a reward.
- The playable character’s battle sprites need attachment points for their weapon sprites. The basic code for attaching sprites to each other has existed in the code for some time now, but there’s currently no way to place these attachment points in As2Tool’s sprite editor.
- The status menu needs to be up and running. Everything in the status menu needn’t be functional, but the basic ability to check your party’s current health and inventory are a must. The actual status page showing each character’s detailed stats is likely to be a placeholder for now, though.
- I need to continue working on the scripting engine so that I can not only add interactive objects to a room, but also play out said interactions through dialog and cut scenes.
- Said cut scenes need to be written. There should be a few as the player progresses, letting the preview build’s little side story play out. This will give players a chance to get a feel for the game’s storytelling style.
- There needs to be some sort of title screen to greet the player when starting the game.
- There also needs to be a loading screen at startup. Right now, the game window remains invisible until its initial resources are in place, which takes a few seconds and may confuse players.
- There needs to be a game over screen, and a way for the player to carry on without having to start all over from the beginning.
In the interest of getting this preview build out the door, there are other tasks that are needed for the final game that, maybe, just maybe, aren’t that important yet. Some of these include:
- Magic. It may not be implemented in the preview build. Items and magic both use scripting to function, so they’re quite similar, but magic needs additional visual functions whereas most items can get by with a basic “use item” animation from the character and some text.
- Likewise, The characters almost certainly will not have their skills implemented, even if I implement magic in time for the preview build.
- PC games tend to have pretty large and complex option menus. A lot of this has to do with the wide variety of hardware you need to accommodate. I may put off programming this for now.
- Difficulty levels will absolutely be in the final game. However, you might not be able to select your difficulty level in this preview build because that would require having a working options menu.
- It would be nice to have a town in the demo so that you can buy supplies. Maybe the preview build even starts in the town and then you leave for the dungeon using an option in the town menu? However, while the town itself would be very easy to script, I’d have to set the game up to handle said script, so I’ll likely put that off. You might get a merchant somewhere at the beginning of the dungeon instead.
- Another Star 2 has a new system planned for its leveling-up mechanic. It takes more work than just telling the player what stats got raised, though. For this preview build I may just give the character some more HP and call it a day. Your other stats are not quite as important in Another Star 2 as they were in Another Star; for a single dungeon, just improving your characters with stronger equipment found along the way should be enough to feel like you’re making progress.
- The game’s overworld is already functional as past dev logs have shown, but there’s not really a reason to use it for this preview build. And while the mini-dungeon used here will almost certainly be in the game, I haven’t even decided its position in the world anyway.
- You may or may not be able to save your game.
The goal here is to have this preview build out sooner rather than later. My aim is to have it up and running by the end of the month, but more likely it’ll be well into August. A lot of this also depends on how much time I have to devote to the project. Depending on how real life plays out, Another Star 2 may have to set on the backburner for a bit. In any case, I’ll continue to post on my progress and give insights into Another Star 2’s mechanics and development as I do my best to press forward.