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Author Topic: Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Indie retro parody RPG for XBox 360)  (Read 3551 times)
Robert Boyd
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« on: March 06, 2010, 11:09:35 AM »

Hi all. I've posted earlier about some of my XBox Live Indie Games in the past - Molly the Were-Zompire & Epiphany in Spaaace - but whereas those were all digital novel Choose Your Own Adventures, my current project is a much more traditional console style RPG. We just finished making the trailer for it and I thought some people here might like to take a look - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDAj48iq4w8

As you can probably tell from the trailer, we're going one part homage, one part parody with this project. The game engine's mostly done (the battle engine - the hardest part of the project - is pretty much finished and just need a little more debugging & polish) as are most of the visuals and all of the music.

We're taking a bit of a risk in pricing the game at $1, but looking at other games on the service, it seems like the good $1 games more than make up for their lack in price with quantity of sales. Plus, I've always thought that indie PC RPGs generally tend to be overpriced - yeah, I'm really going to be tempted to spend $15-$30 on your indie game when I could download a classic PS1 RPG for my PSP for $6-$10 or go to Gamestop and pick up a good professional used RPG for just a little bit more.

Anyway, the game isn't finished yet, so any suggestions anyone has on what we could do to make our game a fantastic RPG would be very welcome. I can't promise we'll go with every suggestion but we'll at least consider each one.
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MeshGearFox
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« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2010, 01:35:56 PM »

It's not really clear if you're going for a 16-bit or 8-bit throwback. You have colorful sprites, which indicates 16-bit. At the same time, the actual tile work is simple, which indicates 8-bit. So instead, you sort of have this mixed style and it looks rather careless.

So, two options.

If you're going 8-bit, do consider redrawing the sprites using a limited palette. No more than 20 colors, and also consider looking at some actual NES spritework before you do so, because it is a very distinct style and not immediately easy to emulate if that is the route you are taking.

If you're going for 16-bit style, again, stick to a limited palette. 52 colors or so*. Your art is displaying some very programmer art tendencies, and there are a lot of tutorials to help mitigate that, but sticking to a limited color scheme that you *use through* will keep things look a lot more consistent. Alternatively, if you want to vary the color scheme. And again, also consider looking at some actual 16-bit spritework and using that as a guide. Watch tiling. For instance, have at least four grass tiles and vary them up so it doesn't really look tiled, or, if sticking to a single grass tile, draw it in such a way that the tile boundaries aren't obvious. The video is a bit too grainy, unfortunately, to really tell what's going on with some of the tiles, but this looks like the case.

Similarly, in the ruined town, it might be to your benefit to have a couple dead tree sprites and vary them a little.

Also I want to draw attention to the world map, particularly the coastal regions. You have these blocky, tiled beaches. That doesn't really look good and wasn't hugely common in 8-bit games anyway.

http://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/final-fantasy/screenshots/gameShotId,31430/ FF1 smoothed coastlines a little, even, and PS1 smoothed them completely. FF1's forest regions are notable, too, for not being that blocky.

http://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/dragon-warrior-ii/screenshots/gameShotId,41831/ Even DQ2 did some work to smooth them out a bit, with the waves.

So, do attempt to aim for smooth transitions between biomes on your world map.

Is there any chance I could see an actual screenshot of the game?

I would also recommend toning down some of the referential humor. For instance, "Wise fwom yo gwave," or that SotN reference from the Troll King. It might be good for a couple of chuckles from a certain subset of the population, but the two references I saw in the video aren't particularly clever, and they ARE rather overdone. There's nothing that has to be INHERENTLY bad about making pop-culture references, especially in a parody game, but if they're too obvious they will, most likely, be more groan-worthy than funny.

One of the instances where this sort of humor works best is when it's surprising. When a reference is made that you wouldn't expect to be made in a million years. Context and set up also matter. If you have a lot of pop culture references coming in from nowhere with very little setup, it'll just seem bizarre.

Also, the SotN reference in particular doesn't really work since that was a 32-bit game and this is parodying 16/8-b it games. Consider instead, perhaps, having a wall monster that drops fried chickens that restore health or something. When people think of 8-bit castlevania games, meat randomly hidden in walls is what they'll probably remember more. It also has the added benefit of parodying the RPG tradition of having enemies that drop completely inappropriate items.

* A note on color limitations. I'm not sure what the actual palette limits for SNES and NES games were. I thought that the SNES ran under 256 colors, with 52 colors per tileset and up to 8 colors per sprite. Obviously, I'd recommend toning it even further down from there so that your art tended to maintain a distinct color scheme, at least per tile set. So... maybe limit your game to 52 colors total, with 26 colors per tileset, and 8 colors per sprite? Above all, do not use any colors that would be outside of the normal VGA 256 color range.

--- edit---

Here's some links.

http://www.gamedev.net/reference/art/features/CoderGameArt/page2.asp
http://www.colormatters.com/colortheory.html
http://www.derekyu.com/?page_id=218
« Last Edit: March 06, 2010, 01:47:21 PM by MeshGearFox » Logged

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o/` I only stare at the door and smoke o/`

Robert Boyd
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« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2010, 02:21:46 PM »

Thanks for the constructive criticism.

The 8-bit/16-bit mix was an intentional choice. Going full 8-bit tends to result in very ugly graphics unless you really know what you're doing and going full 16-bit (like say Secret of Mana) would exponentially increase the amount of work. Our goal is to get a happy medium - something that looks better than a NES game but doesn't take nearly as much time as a SNES game (I'd love to be able to spend years making the perfect game, but that's just not financially feasible, at least not with our first one).

Since you asked, here are a few screenshots, so you can check out the tilework a little more closely:





The coastal map blockiness is a known issue that we're planning on cleaning up before release. I'll pass on your suggestion about more variants of the same thing to the tilemap - that should be relatively easy to implement and will no doubt make the whole thing look better.

As for the referential humor, yeah, it's probably a good idea to tone it down in the actual game (and make the ones we do include a bit more obscure an clever). Chances are the only referential joke in the trailer that will actually be in the game will be the RE4 merchant joke.

EDIT: Actually, I think we'll keep the SotN joke, but rewrite it a bit so it works better.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2010, 02:26:54 PM by Robert Boyd » Logged

MeshGearFox
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« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2010, 02:29:22 PM »

That actually looks quite a lot better than in the video, though I think you can see what I'm talking about in the first screenshot, where the grass tile boundaries are visible. The mountain/rock tiles tile a lot more seamlessly, so I guess go for something like that.

Just creating mirrored sprites of the trees and holes in the floor (from the second screenshot) might help add some variety without needing a lot of working. Or, with the holes, which look like they're sort of "deer hoof" shaped if that makes, just changing the relative spacing/position of the two holes. Just some minor things that'll probably have a nice payoff without needing a lot of effort.
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Robert Boyd
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« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2010, 02:48:04 PM »

Ah, I just talked with the artist and it turns out that much of the tile effect was caused by improper scaling of the image from its original 1280x720 resolution. Here it is again properly scaled.



Oh and he thought your criticism were useful and he'll do his best to address the various concerns that you mentioned.

As for the overall art style, I guess you could say that we're aiming for something like this:



That's the 16-bit remake of DQ2. 8-bit tile setup, but more colors and details than a NES game.
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Fei
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« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2010, 04:05:25 PM »

The grass looks way better now, but the seams are still obvious, and would still benefit from a variant or two.  I can see dark horizontal lines towards the bottom of the grass tile (the vertical borders are visible too, but not quite as much), and when you see it once you see it everywhere.  If that could be softened or thinned a bit you'd be closer to perfect.  If you were to leave it how it is it'd be fine too, but if you're really fine tuning, that's what I would try.

The first screenshot's grass actually gave an old PC game vibe in my opinion.  Since you are intentionally going for these retro styles, it almost had its own quality.

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Plus, I've always thought that indie PC RPGs generally tend to be overpriced - yeah, I'm really going to be tempted to spend $15-$30 on your indie game when I could download a classic PS1 RPG for my PSP for $6-$10 or go to Gamestop and pick up a good professional used RPG for just a little bit more.

I agree completely.  Your game reminds me of Dawn's Light with its sense of humor, but $20 was too much to pay.  Dawn's Light had this style of dialogue that would start with some random quirky statement and would rapidly pile on absurdity while remaining on topic, and it worked well.  I'm basically reiterating what Mesh said, but if the SotN joke is standing on its own I'd maybe reconsider it.  If it's neatly tucked into a meatier exchange, the fact that it is a reference at all would only be a bonus to those who get it.  A bad joke is easily forgivable at $1 though.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2010, 04:29:09 PM by Fei » Logged

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MeshGearFox
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« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2010, 05:12:04 PM »

Iiii'd like to point out that saying stuff like "20 dollars is too much to pay for Indie Game X" is sort of a hot-button thing for some people because it's used fairly frequently to justify piracy of commercial indie games.

Now, for something made in RPGMaker I'd probably say complaining about price is more justified since they're not making their own engine and that's one of the hardest parts of actually constructing the game. But if it's something like one of the Avernum games, which are long as hell, or Mount and Blade, which had a loooot of work put into it...

Non-XBLA, non-Steam/Impulse indie RPGs don't tend to sell as well anyway because they're not really well known.
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« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2010, 06:20:00 PM »

Dawn's Light was in fact an RPGMaker game, but point taken.  Honestly, I was only considering RPGMaker games (due to their being heavily promoted here) when I replied to Robert.  The fact that I even discriminate between RPGMaker and homegrown products at all probably means that I am too invested in the tech side of things, where an average consumer might just see two different games.

This game probably could have been done in RPGMaker, but the fact that it was not lets me think that I can expect something fresh.  I am now motivated to play Iffermoon, which is free and better than everything.

This thread is persuading me to buy a 360 at some point.
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Robert Boyd
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« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2010, 07:12:15 PM »

When I said that I thought a lot of indie RPGs were overpriced, my main point was that I think many of them would make more money with lower prices, not that the price justifies piracy (it doesn't) or even that they're not worth the money (some of them are).

Like take Spiderweb Software for example. They have a reputation of selling very long non-linear RPGs with quality gameplay, good stories, and lowsy graphics. Since they cater to the hardcore, support both the Mac & PC, and have been around a long time, they have a small but dedicated fanbase that they can count on to buy most of the stuff they release, despite relatively high prices (as far as indie games go). However, I can't help but wonder if they wouldn't make more money in the long run with cheaper prices since that would enable them to expand their fanbase. Even among fans of RPGs, I imagine most of them look at a Spiderweb Software game, sees the old graphics & a price tag that's comparable with a new DS/PSP game, a used 360/PS3/Wii game, or several cheap download games, and immediately discount it as not worth their time or money.

Or to use a personal example, I've noticed that I tend to be a lot harsher going in to demos when the price feels overpriced to me. For example, when I first tried Pixeljunk Monsters Deluxe, I had a bad attitude ($20 for a tower defense game?! You could buy both Plants vs. Zombies & Defense Grid combined for that!) and didn't care for it much. But later, I gave it another shot and I ended up loving it. I now count it as one of my favorite PSP games.

I guess my point is that a lot of indie developers price their games as what they feel they're worth, rather than a price that would be enticing to consumers. There are so many possible options for video games these days, that you really need to make people think that they would be crazy to not buy your game, because it's such a good deal, rather than giving them excuses to skip it.
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« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2010, 07:37:54 PM »

Re: game pricing.  I think all of us would love to see games less expensive than they are, be they indie, mainstream or whatever.  But plenty of people still need a cut.  Many indie games have a staff; gotta give a cut to the graphic artists, the proofreaders, the music composers, the voice actors ( should the game have voice acting), etc. 

Indie developers are like the small business owners of the gaming world in my mind, and when you look at the current economic climate, it's tough for small businesses financially everywhere.  Looking outside the gaming world, I'd like to think that small businesses are what'll rebuild the economy, but with everything being what it is, even they have to compromise (i.e. not providing health plans for employees) in order to underwrite costs and everything. 

But, yes, from a consumer standpoint it's easier to part with $7 for Across Age on the iPhone than part with 2-3 times that amount on some indie PC game. 

In other words, the business climate is a harsh one and I'm not sure if there is one best or one right way to make the best return on an investment. 
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MeshGearFox
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« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2010, 07:58:04 PM »

I lost the article, and it was for iPhone game pricing IIRC, but you actually have to be very popular to turn a reasonable profit for very cheap and, IIRC, more expensive games. It's actually this weird bell curve, or at least that's the impression I got. I do think Spiderweb used to overcharge for their games a bit. I don't, however, think they could attract a large enough fanbase to charge less and improve long term earnings. oldschool PC RPGs are niche.
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Robert Boyd
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« Reply #11 on: March 06, 2010, 08:41:29 PM »

Yeah, picking the optimal price for a game is a tricky business. Pricing it too low or too high will lose you money. I do think that erring on the side of pricing too low is better than pricing too high though - price it too low and you just lose some money, but price it too high and you lose money and potential fans.

I will add that one nice benefit to releasing on XBLIG is that $1 is a viable price tag since you get the same cut of the revenue no matter (70%). On some other services (or self publishing), $1 is completely impossible since it costs a certain amount of money just to process each order.
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« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2010, 04:06:07 AM »

Looks great, although I hate that combat view!

This game will live and die on it's humor!
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Robert Boyd
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« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2010, 09:52:59 AM »

Interview is up:

http://xboxhornet.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/breath-of-death-preview/
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