Another Star 2 Dev Log #20: Setbacks

They say that the road to success is paved with failure, but it’s also paved with lots of sudden and unexpected detours. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any dev logs in some time. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not because I’ve given up on the project.

In July of last year I got a new job, and am now working full time. Alas, it’s not in my field, which is really frustrating at times, but it is keeping my bills paid and that’s what’s important right now. Sadly, this means I simply can’t dedicate twenty-to-forty hours a week on this project anymore. Any progress is made in my free time now, and there was even a long period where I didn’t try making progress at all. I’ve been meaning to post about this for months now, but I kept putting it off until I had something new to show at the same time. I shouldn’t have done that, I suppose. I’ll try to get back to making updates semi-regularly again. Sorry about that!

That also brings me to another subject that needs to be discussed here: cutting content. As creators, we usually hate parting with the perfect vision we see in our minds. But we can’t do everything. Whenever you create something, be it video games or books or movies or something else, you eventually have to part with some of your ideas, even the ones you love the most. Some things have to be cut because they would take too long, others because they don’t work as well as was planned, and still others because they’re just not feasible.

Another Star 2: Fate of the Catalyst design document

The original design document for Another Star 2, complete with its original working title.

When I first began work on this game, I wrote out an enormous document. It detailed the game’s mechanics, its world and characters, and most importantly it included a very detailed outline of the game’s story from beginning to end. The document is a little over a hundred pages long (and single-spaced, at that). I knew from the beginning that I would probably have to trim quite a bit of fat to actually finish the game in a reasonable amount of time, and that was before I got caught up in pretend system limitations before rebooting the code from near-scratch! However, now that I have so much less time to do things, I’m probably going to have to cut even more than I had initially hoped. A lot more.

The question is, what are those cuts going to be? The game, as currently envisioned, contains nine playable characters, ten major dungeons, about twice that number of mini-dungeons, and like the original Another Star it includes countless little side areas to seek out that would consist of just a screen or two. So where do I point my knife? Should I reduce the number of playable characters to cut down on the number of highest-quality sprites I need to pixel out? Or do I just simplify their sprites, or even reduce the number of animations for them? Should I cut out entire dungeons whole cloth, or should I make them smaller, or leave them as intended and reduce the number of mini-dungeon side quests instead? If I streamline the game too much, will that detract from exploration because there’s nothing to find? Or do I just accept that maybe this is going to be a ten year project instead of one that one lasts only another year or two? These are all questions I need to consider very carefully right now.

I also wonder if I should carry on with my “vertical slice” demo that I mentioned before, or simply begin the actual game. I’ve honestly never really done a vertical slice. For better or worse, I usually just start at the beginning and go from there, accepting that I’ll have to come back and polish the early game content later. (Either way, I’d release some sort of demo as early as possible, just not a proper “vertical slice”.)

But regardless of what I cut, I think the harshest truth I must face is this: the game won’t be perfect. No game ever will, of course, but this one even less so. I have a habit of obsessing over little details, wanting to polish every pixel to its finest. I can’t do that anymore. I think I’m going to have to accept that some battle animations won’t be perfectly fluid, that some lines of dialog will be lackluster, that some map layouts won’t be as engaging as others. And then I will have to move on to the next piece of content that needs to be worked on.

Oh! And before I go, I mentioned I was holding out to show my progress. Well, here you go!

Another Star 2 gameplay

Enemies are fully animated, and each has a neat little entrance animation at the beginning of the battle.

I promise I won’t wait so long for the next update! I’m planning to continue working on the battle sprites and animations so that I can get the battles mechanics into place. Look forward to it!

4 thoughts on “Another Star 2 Dev Log #20: Setbacks

  1. Let’s see if this blog still detects me as spam!

    Glad to have you back posting!

    I think when cutting content it’s important to get a feeling on what really takes long to do and what doesn’t. For me when I have a bunch of ideas they can really reach from “Ouch this will be tons of work” to “Wow that is a neat idea and really easy to code too”. So the quality improvement is not necessarily linear to the effort put into and having good ideas can save a lot of work. Sometimes I even design games around being easy to do (like I can make a very complex and fun roguelike in like 200 hours, but a generic and boring JRPG spanning 200 hours of story, I probably couldn’t even finish in lifetime).

    This is of course just my personal opinion, but I’d for example NOT safe time on the animations. I rather have only 3 playable character that are wonderfully animated than having 9 that look rather “cheap”. Especially because I personally always have an incredibly hard time to decide which character to take into my group. It seems pointless being forced to choose, especially if the game hardly has any replay value (and let’s face it, even though Another Star has tons of optional content, there is not too much reason to play through it twice). Like, if you have 3 slots in battle for characters, then most players will just pick the 3 they like most. Meaning for that one player, 66% of the animations you created will be wasted.

    As for content, my experience is that writing story is probably the most work. At least for me personally. Writing, proof-reading, fixing, trying to get through all the alternative dialogues (if there are any answer options). That’s tons of work.

    On the other hand, just designing a really cool and large maze-like dungeon is easy work. I can do that in 1 week no problem. 10 big dungeons? That wouldn’t take much of my resources. Probably drawing the map tiles for them would take me longer than actually adding the dungeons. So adding a dungeon with a tileset I’ve already made or that can easily be adjusted by recolouring to look different without much work is actually pretty fast.

    Finally, you can also save a lot of time by making good enemy synergies. Let’s say you plan to have 10 dungeons and each dungeon should have 6 different monsters in it. That would require you to make 60 monsters. HOWEVER, if you design monster synergies, so basically monster aren’t just a bunch of stats but also do actions that monster later on the road might actually benefit from, then you can reuse existing monster later. So for example the second dungeons has 6 different monster types, but 3 of them are actually ones that the player has seen somewhere else before. That way you can keep encouter variety high and battles interesting without having to make hundreds of monsters.

    So yeah tl;dr – With good ideas and good game design, a lot of time can be saved. Don’t get stuck on things that take too long to do and instead think about what you can do fast.

    1. Like, if you have 3 slots in battle for characters, then most players will just pick the 3 they like most. Meaning for that one player, 66% of the animations you created will be wasted.

      In this game, there are reasons you would’t want to stick with the same three characters the entire game. I’ll discuss that in a future post, though.

      On the other hand, just designing a really cool and large maze-like dungeon is easy work. I can do that in 1 week no problem. 10 big dungeons? That wouldn’t take much of my resources. Probably drawing the map tiles for them would take me longer than actually adding the dungeons. So adding a dungeon with a tileset I’ve already made or that can easily be adjusted by recolouring to look different without much work is actually pretty fast.

      The biggest problem here is that Another Star 2’s dungeons, like the original Another Star, are more than just mazes. Those “dead-ends” aren’t just treasure. There are little battles, scenes, sub-quests, and other such activities in each dungeon to keep them interesting. Those take work. :/

  2. Looks nice!

    “I’m planning to continue working on the battle sprites and animations so that I can get the battles mechanics into place. Look forward to it!”

    Is it really necessary to do the animations first? Or is the purpose of drawing them so that while you’re implementing the mechanics you get a big kick of motivation as it begins to work and animate?

    Not posting anything because you don’t have something really neat to show is a trap that I’ve fallen into badly!

    1. Is it really necessary to do the animations first?

      Yes and no. Part of doing the animations at this point is to get a feel for what each character is going to need to be “finished”, which lets me know how hard it will be to implement each one. The animations are also a big part of the game’s feedback. Without the animations, it’s really hard to follow what’s going on in battle and who is attacking whom.

      And yes, the motivation it provides does help. 🙂

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