Monthly Archives: September 2013

It Is Finished! (Sort Of)

At last, Another Star is playable from beginning to end. The completion time for the very first run of the game was 20:24:22. That’s twenty hours, by the way. A nice, solid total for an RPG, I think.

This means, ladies and gentlemen, that we are in beta.

In fact, you—yes, you—can be a beta tester! All you have to do is download the game from the link below, play it for as long as you want, and then either leave a reply here or send an email telling me what you thought about it. None of the dialog or text is finalized, so I don’t care about typos, but please do tell me about bugs. And do let me know what exciting things you found while exploring, and what strategies you came up with to deal with enemies and bosses.

(Save files from the previous version may or may not work. It’s best to start a new save.)
(No longer available. Sorry!)

Unlike the “leaked” version, I very much doubt this will be left up for more than a week or two, so grab it while you can, and enjoy!

After Release

When you’re releasing something on the PC—whether the target system is Windows, Linux, Mac, or something else entirely—you’re never quite done with it, even when though the game is already out and everyone can play it. Thanks to the fact that each computer is so different from the next, and the sheer amount of players you have to find them, there’s bound to be a bug or five hundred somewhere. Annoyingly, they can often be quite serious, causing a game that someone has paid good money for to crash and prevent them from playing at all.

Because of that, I’m committed one hundred percent to maintaining Another Star after its release. If there’s a problem with the game, I’ll try my best to fix it (within reason). And not just at release, mind you. For at least the next five years, whatever happens to Vision Riders, whether the company sinks or swims after the game comes out, I’ll personally continue to put out update patches to make sure that what you paid for actually runs. It doesn’t mean as much coming from an indie developer, perhaps, but this commitment is something I take seriously. If I was big on marketing I’d call this the “Five Year Guarantee” and make a cool logo for it, but that’s just too much work I don’t feel like doing today silly.

And speaking of after release, a few people have either suggested that I look into getting the game translated into other languages, or have even offered to help do so themselves. I would absolutely love this, because I want the game to reach as many people as possible who want to play it. The game’s underlying engine is even set up to just start plugging translated dialog in with the change of a simple text file.

But, well, there’s a problem with translating this game. Can you spot it below?

Another Star's Tile Sheet

A slightly dated version of Another Star’s 256 tile sheet.
Every single sprite in the game comes from this image.

Did you see it?

The problem is very simple: because I’ve limited myself to only 256 tiles, there’s only a set number of characters that can fit into the game. Notice how the game only includes capital letters, saving 26 tiles that would have been used for lower-case letter and can now be used for other graphics. Most other languages, even those that use the Latin alphabet, have a number of additional symbols (like accents) that standard English does not contain. Sure, you can use different tile sheets for different languages, trading out characters that the target language does not need, but a lot of languages are going to need more than just the 26 tiles used for the English alphabet.

Ironically, the solution to this is equally simple. Simply “cheat” the 256 tile limit for non-English languages and enlarge the tile sheet to include new characters. (For languages like Japanese, even if you’re only using hiragana this would be an absolute necessity.) Problem solved.

But wait! If we’re going to cheat and expand the tile sheet anyway, leaving all that extra real estate for tiles, why not put some of those new tiles to use? What if there was a “special edition” or “rerelease” of our imaginary Another Star game cartridge that included extra memory for foreign releases, and used some of that extra memory for new enemy graphics, new map areas to explore, and countless new things to do and see that weren’t in the original release?

In other words, post-release DLC. It’s something I’ve considered for a long time, and even have some ideas on what to include. If I went this route, I’d like to keep the DLC packs small and free of charge. In other words, if you buy the game, any of these updates will be included in the price. I’ll probably even include some sort of switch so you can stick with the “pure” 256 tile release version if you want.

Granted, the free DLC would (probably) not include something like a complete enemy graphic overhaul to make the enemy sprites bigger and more varied, or an HD graphic pack with higher resolution and more colors. While those things would be cool, they’d likely take months of work to complete and it would be difficult for me to justify handing them out for free, supposing I’m able to do them at all. Still, it’s something to keep in mind.

Regardless, I hope this gives you something to look forward to. I want to make sure the money you pay to play the game feels like money well spent! Another Star is nearing release as we speak, so you’ll be able to get your hands on it before long.

Site Redesign On the Way

The main Vision Riders site has bothered me for some time. It’s overly corporate and sterile, lacking the personal connection that often makes indies so unique. This coming week, however, I plan to work on getting a new site design up, along with a fresh, new version of the Vision Riders Entertainment logo. I want to have everything really nice and polished when Another Star comes out.

Why next week? Well, I’m hoping to finish off the main storyline of the game by this weekend and have it ready for playtesters! It won’t be complete, but it will be playable from beginning to end. I’m almost to working on the final boss now. Working on the site will give me a nice break from working on the game while I wait for input from other people and decide what to change and tweak as I begin really pushing to finish the game for release.

Spanner in the Works

Today I learned that my sister’s wedding is taking place this October, not next October the way I had originally understood. In fact, it’s taking place the same week as Another Star‘s scheduled release date. Even though it’s not like I’m planning the wedding or undertaking its execution, considering the stressful amount of post-release bug-hunting and publicity I expect to have to keep on top of, 21 October is just not going to work—especially if I’m on the road that particular day driving my grandparents up here!

This leaves me with two options.

1. Move the Release Date Back

While this gives me more time to polish and promote the game, it also presents all-new problems. It’s looking like I’m going to be moving sometime before the end of the year, probably in November, and there’s no way I’m going to do a move and a game release at the same time. Not to mention moving the release even closer to the end of the year puts it in conflict with year-end sales at places like Steam and I’m not sure how a low-profile release like mine would fare when people are busy saving their money for snagging titles bigger than mine at 80% off.

So, early next year then? That’d give me time to do additional cool stuff like a Nintendo Power style strategy guide in PDF format, akin to the kind they put out for Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES back in the day. But that’s also really postponing a project I’m ready to be finished with. The fate of Another Star and what comes soon after—if anything—is seriously going to determine whether Vision Riders continues to exist in any form. I’d rather get that over with sooner than later.

Which leads me directly to the next option.

2. Move the Release Date Up

It’s a possibility, but it’s a slim one. I could move the release date forward by a week or two. I’m not particularly fond of this option. 21 October is already a close shave as it is. September is nearing its halfway point, and I still have the last dungeon, final boss, and ending to design and code. I would have precious little time left to refine the script, get playtesting feedback, fix bugs and typos, and do all the promotion a title like this needs to get noticed.

Still, it is a real possibility, and one I’m seriously considering. Once the fate of the game’s release is known for sure, I’ll post about it here. Until then, assume the game is coming out later rather than sooner.

I’m really sorry about this. If the game gets delayed, I’ll try to find some way to make up for it.

The Art of Using Items

Screenshot of a battle in Another Star

Click here for a larger version.

Items are very important in Another Star, in no small part because they’re just about the only way to heal your party. Making sure you have enough Herb Dust on hand before setting off into the next dungeon is essential to your survival.

For most of the game’s development, using items was the same as any other battle command, and the item would get activated whenever the party leader’s turn in battle came around. Turn order each round is based on a combatant’s agility stat, but it’s not fixed. While faster characters have a higher chance of going first, it’s still possible for a slower character to get a lucky RNG roll and get a move in before them.

Because of this, it was common for the enemies to whittle your party’s HP down in one round, and then finish you off the next round before your party leader’s turn came around to heal everyone. This problem was only made worse by the fact that Tachi (the main character) is your party leader so long as he’s up and fighting—but Tachi is by far the slowest character in the party. This means that he often goes last each round of battle, making him the worst possible candidate to use an item. But the player had no choice in the matter. Unless Tachi was knocked out, he would always be the one using the item. This led to common situations where the entire party would go from over ⅔ health to dead before the player could get a healing item in, even if they were perfectly leveled and equipped for the area. You’d get wiped out before you even had a chance to react!

I realized that this wasn’t fun at all. There was no strategy to it, just luck. So I began to think about ways to address it. One solution was to average all the character’s agility and use that to determine when the item got used. But that seemed arbitrary and counterintuitive, so I came up with something better.

In the current version of the game, if you decide to use an item in battle, you will always go first. It’s actually worked out pretty well. It’s made limited-use attack items like bows and throwing stars even more valuable, since they’re guaranteed to deal damage before the enemy can attack, and it’s also given battles a bit of a gamble mechanic because you can decide to risk letting your HP drop very low, knowing that so long as they don’t get knocked out you can heal the party right back up again. Thus if you get killed, it’s usually because you flew too close to the sun in your gamble, not because of the whims of chance.

Even though it seems battles are just there to slow you down and pad gameplay time, please remember that they’re actually a core part of the game experience, and because of that a lot of thought went into them.

Welcome to the New Blog!

As you can see, I’ve replaced the old blog with a shiny new one!

The old blog software was causing a lot of problems, and on top of that it wasn’t letting actual users comment while three or four spam bot posts got through a day. Hopefully this new blog works much better as we count down to the release of Another Star. I want to make sure everything looks perfect by then!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be manually adding the posts from the old blog to this new one. There are a handful of tools online I’ve come across to do this, but I’m not sure they’re any good, and I want to be sure that the links and formatting are correct since the new software handles these differently. In the meantime, you can visit an archive of the old blog at

Now to start skinning this blog so it doesn’t look so generic!

Heroes Younger Than I

Anybody who has seen any of my artwork or read many of the stories I’ve written over the years probably realizes that my preferred subjects are teenagers. This may seem like a strange choice to some, perhaps, but I simply find them to be the most interesting characters.

There’s something fascinating to me about the teenage years that give them such a dynamic range of topics, struggles, and characterization. When you’re a teenager there’s still a bit of “magic” to the world, locked into that delicate balance between becoming a full-fledged adult and still being a child and having fun. You have your whole life ahead of you, and you’re getting your first tastes of responsibility, independence, and individuality. Teenagers are still finding their place in this world and working to form lasting opinions on its many issues, while at the same time trying to make sense of everything, not to mention trying to make sense of themselves and who they are as a person. This age of discovery is such a ripe bed of story and character ideas, and teenagers will naturally have some sort of character arc to them just by existing in the world of a story. Not to mention children and teenagers are always so expressive, moving in wide motions that waste energy and display their raw emotions bare for the whole world to see, not caring who else sees or hears them other than their immediate friends.

Adults, on the other hand, tend to have things figured out–even if only in their own head. They’re stiffer, less pliable, more reserved. Every action is subconsciously thought out, even things so simple as a basic walk cycle or standing in place. They’ve already been through the trying fires of adolescence and, having mastered mastered the many trials of puberty, their personalities and emotions are far more stable and static. That’s not to say I don’t find adults fascinating. It’s just that their character arcs tend to be very different in nature, and stem more from the circumstances of what’s going on around them instead of welling up from within themselves.

Sometimes I feel like I should grow up and write more “mature” characters, or start filling my sketch book with more “grown-ups”. But I never seem to stick with it for very long. The fluidity of youth is more fun to write or doodle than the subtleties of adulthood. And it’s not like I’m alone. The majority of young adult literature is written by actual adults, after all.

There’s also the difficulties of perspective. A decade ago I was a teenager. While clarity fades with time, I do still remember what it was like and how it felt. On the other hand, I’m single and don’t have any children. That makes writing from the perspective of a parent, for example, more difficult. It’s not that I can’t put myself in the place of a parent when writing a character–I do so all the time. But it takes a lot more research to craft and understand, because I can’t rely on my own experiences to the degree I can when writing about, say, young siblings interacting.

Looking back, I realize this is nothing new in my life. It seems I’ve always favored characters that are younger than myself. When I was nine, I wrote a story wherein the hero is a four year old. When I was a teenager, most of my characters where either very young teenagers, or more often preteen. Perhaps there’s more than a bit of longing to it?

Now that I’m less than a year away from thirty I’ve noticed I’ve been slipping ever more twenty-something protagonists into my work. Tachi and Eva, the main characters in Another Star, are in their early twenties, and the player character Serenity in Junction is roughly twenty-eight. Perhaps when I’m ninety I’ll be writing stories about all those spy young whippersnappers in their seventies.