Monthly Archives: February 2018

Another Star 2 Dev Log #21: Adventures With Friends

Another Star 2 footage

Sally forth!

Adventuring is always more fun with friends. Even the darkest dungeons aren’t so dreary when you have comrades by your side. As noted before, there are nine planned party members for Another Star 2. I’ve completed the map sprites for three of them thus far, allowing me to test a proper party. They all need plenty of tweaks their sprites still need, but it’s a start.

Party composition will be a fairly big deal in Another Star 2. In the first Another Star, the hero Tachi had two companions, giving you a set party of three characters that were with you for pretty much the entire game. However, I really wanted to build on the party mechanics and give the player options to balance the strengths and weaknesses of each party member by teaming them up in different ways. Instead of being forced to stick with glass cannon Tachi, what if you could have occasionally switched him out in favor of a faster and sturdier character that wasn’t quite as strong, and lacked Tachi’s strength buff spell?

I want players to have reasons to experiment and change their lineup regularly. First off, like with most games, each character has their own stats. Some specialize in strength, some in defense or speed, and so on. Second, each character has their own unique skills, a new addition for Another Star 2, giving each character their own flavor and gameplay style. Most RPGs are content with these two properties for characters, but Another Star 2 goes a bit further. As mentioned in an earlier dev blog, each character has their own elemental strengths and weaknesses. You may be able to compensate for these a bit later in the game, but you can’t get rid of them altogether. If you’re headed into an ice cave, you may have to swap your favorite character out for awhile because they’re weak against ice and can’t defend against the hits they’re receiving from the ice-themed enemies. Forth, a character’s guard meter only goes down a small amount at the end of a battle. If it’s starting to fill up, you may want to swap the character out for a bit. Every character’s guard meter goes back down a bit after a battle, even if they aren’t in the active party. Finally, you may not always have access to all nine party members at all times. Each character has their own things to deal with in the wide, wide world, and so they may be unavailable from time to time. You may even be able to send them off on their own mini-quests for a set amount of in-game time, to return with loot and items if they’re successful.

Here’s a preview video that I recorded of in-game footage, showing the current state of the project and letting you listen to the game’s real-time FM synth at work. Give it a view and then I’ll discuss some of what you’ll see.

First off… the glitches. I kept wanting to put this recording off until I fixed everything perfectly, but then the game would be finished and four years would have passed without a single dev log update! The biggest issues to notice are that the animation for the two follower members likes to glitch out because they’re changing speed and direction so often. Sometimes they have trouble figuring out which direction to face and end up walking backwards (this happens most often in the overworld). Don’t worry. These issues will be fixed before release, and I promise they’ll look great as they follow you around the world. The frame rate also tends to skip at points, and there’s some video and audio artifacts, but these are mostly recording issues because my computer isn’t the best. Ignore all of these for the moment, and I’ll get on to the more interesting stuff.

First off, encounters. If you played the first game, you know how the system works. As you walk around, prompts show up above the main character’s head indicating an encounter. A yellow “!” means that you can fight or ignore the battle, while a red “!!” means that you have to accept the battle right away or else you’ll be ambushed. But right off the bat, in the video you’ll see a red “!!!” followed by a yellow “!!” and then a yellow “!”. What’s the difference? Difficulty! Battles that force you to think about how to beat your opponent are great, but if every battle is such a mental workout it gets tedious and boring, and sometimes just downright stressful. It’s nice to spice things up by having some simpler battles that you can basically just button-mash through. Some games do this by mixing difficult bosses with cakewalk normal battles, but that can make the easy normal battles bland and forgettable. Another Star 2 does its best to strike a balance by having a wider range of standard battles. Those encounters with a single “!” are easy, those with “!!” harder, and those with “!!!” the hardest. These happen independently of whether a battle is forced or not, thus the icon changes. When you first enter a new area, maybe you’ll only accept the easiest battles to make sure you can handle them before venturing further and risking the chance of a more difficult forced battle.

(You may notice I’m skipping all the forced encounters, by the way. That’s because the game is in debug mode–and also because the ambush doesn’t properly trigger yet.)

There’s also another type of encounter icon that the game will introduce that aren’t demonstrated because they haven’t been implemented yet, and those are mini-boss encounters. In the first game, mini-bosses were set encounters in fixed locations visible on the map. Another Star 2 will probably still have those in spades, but very rarely you will get a special encounter icon for a mini-boss. You are forced to accept these in order to avoid an ambush, and will be pitted against incredibly rare and difficult foes to further break up the monotony.

Now, pay special attention to the battle footage. If you watch careful, you’ll notice the rat enemies don’t use the same attack animation every time. Every time an enemy or party member attacks, the game will randomly determine if they managed a weak, moderate, or strong attack. You can tell what level of attack they get by how many strikes they make in the attack. One strike represents a weak attack, while three strikes represents a strong one. Strong attacks do higher damage (although this hasn’t been properly implemented yet). You’ll only see the attack levels with enemies right now, because none of the party members have their proper attack frames yet. Critical hits, of course, are a different beast and have their own unique attack animation, but they haven’t been implemented yet either.

Now, one last thing before I go, and this one is a biggie. Another Star used an “omni-battle” system where every attack hits every possible opponent. With Another Star 2 I intended to build on and refine the system by introducing the guard system and letting you choose your party composition, among other major changes. However, I’m seriously considering ditching it altogether and letting you select a command and individual target for each party member, just like a traditional RPG. Another Star is shaping up to have a more ambitious scope than its predecessor, even if it’s not planned to be that much longer in playtime, and I fear the old battle system will feel out-of-place and grow stale as the game goes on. Perhaps I can save all my ideas for the “omni-battle system 2.0” and use them in another, smaller RPG some other time in the future.

I do hesitate to commit to the change yet, though, for a few reasons. The biggest one is that I want to keep that connection to the first game. The omni-battle system was one of Another Star’s staple minimalist design choices. If you can only hit one target at a time, will Another Star 2’s battle system feel too generic, even with all the ideas I am still bringing over from the first game? I also worry that it will slow the game down too much. Battles (usually) played out so quickly in Another Star that they were an in-and-out affair and never ground the game’s progress to a halt. I don’t want Another Star 2’s battles to be something slow and tedious that you would automatically cut out of Let’s Plays and such without a second thought.

What are your thoughts about the battle system, and the project’s current state? I look forward to hearing your input!

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!