Summoning whatsits now?
Recently I entered a game design competition at my college and submitted a game I have been working on for quite a while now called "The Summoning Stones of Ratreyjan". Shortly after the competition was over, I decided to make some changes to the game and put it up for download on itch.io. The game itself is the first game that I can honestly say I have finished to my expectations. That, along with a number of other reasons, is why it is also the first game that I have made publically available to download. So in the spirit of growth as a creator, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the project itself while it is still fresh in my mind.
I figure I may as well get this out in the open as soon as possible but "Summoning Stones" is a game that was made in RPG Maker MV. Now before everyone storms out of the blog, I'd like to take a moment to defend myself on why I chose this engine for this particular project.
Reason #1: I wanted to make an RPG. That sounds like such a simple answer, but it is the most compelling reason I had to work on this game in an engine that is designed to make rpg's. In addition, Summoning Stones was always meant to be a side project inbetween my school work so I didn't really have the commitment or conviction to program my own complex battle system for this game. RPG Maker MV came prepackaged with a good bit of what I wanted to have for this game already. So it only made sense to me to work with an engine that had what I needed to accomplish my goal already programmed into it.
Reason #2: I've always wanted to make an RPG Maker game. Call me crazy, but I love the style that these games have. They exude a nostalgic charm that is too powerful for me to resist. So, naturally I wanted to make a game with that kind of nostalgic charm so that others could play my game and get that same warm fuzzy feeling from the old-school rpg's.
Reason #3: Burnout. Plain and simple. When I started this game I had just completed one of the hardest semesters of my college career and I needed a break. I still wanted to keep working on games, but I needed something that had the option to program but wasn't really necessary. So I came up with the base idea for the game and set to work when I had the time on making an old-school rpg with a mechanical twist!
Good! Now we can continue uninterrupted!
What's the Game About?
Well Summoning Stones is very much an old-school rpg. There's basic party management, classes specific to each character, a linear storyline, and over the top boss battles. The one place where it differs is in the leveling system and how experience is treated in this game. In Summoning Stones you play as the Female Protagonist who is just about to confront the final boss of the game. You can actually open your menu screen and check to see that your character is lv.99 at this point. You have access to a plethora of skills and are equipped in the finest of armors. However, you find that even with all of this power you are no match for the Evil King. Your quest takes you to a quaint town in which you find an old mystic that tells you of the Celestial Guardians that can only be summoned by awakening the dormant summoning stones. The only catch is that in order to wake these stones up you must give your levels and skills up in the process. This means that as you progress through the main story of the game your character will level down. Enemies and bosses you encounter only become harder because you have become weaker.
Neato, So Then How'd It Turn Out?
I think it turned out alright. For as short of a project as it was supposed to be, it did take a lot longer than I originally anticipated. Delays are always expected, but I think I may have dropped the ball on actually finishing the game in a timely fashion.
I am one of those kinds of people that constantly espouse the importance of good time management skills. I'd also like to think that in most cases I do have good time management skills. For this project, however, I know I could have managed my time better. Part of this was my relegation of this project as "just a side project", but we'll get to that in a bit.
When I first started Summoning Stones I had set a goal of working on it for about 2-3 months max inbetween my other classes. This I felt was fair and would work well with other timetables I had in my head for school projects I would have to complete in the next semester. Fast forward a few months and I was still working on it in month 4. By month 5 I had most of it done, but something had to give. I knew I was spending way too much time on a game I had orignally budgeted a lot less time to complete. One of the major reasons for why it took so long was the fact that I had a vision in my head of what the final game looked like. I felt that if I didn't live up to this vision that I was doing some kind of disservice to the people that would be playing my game in the future. And even now, I still feel as though it did not quite reach that mental expectation, but I came to an important realization that made a huge difference in getting the project done. Nobody ever ships the game they envision at first. It was a startling revelation and one that I am genuinely surprised took me this long to figure out. Yet, even at month 5, I was still not comfortable releasing it. It was missing boss fights, the big dramatic ending, and some kind of resolution to the story. I was ready to scrap it and move onto the next exciting and amazing project that would light the world on fire without even a second thought.
Then, it happened. I made a promise to myself that I would finish this game and publish it no matter what. I found out about my college's game design expo that was happening in less than a month and set the competition date as my deadline. The game would need to be finished by then. And after the competition I would ship.
It was the biggest kick in the pants to my motivation I have ever received. Having a commitment device, such as the date of this public competition, really helped me to focus and bring all of my energy into finishing the project. I programmed boss fights, scripted multiple cutscenes, and tested for new classes all within a couple of weeks. By the date of the competition I had managed to pull it off somehow and came home with 2nd in the competition to boot!
So I've learned that even with "side projects" it is important to plan, schedule, and organize just as heavily as you would for a bigger project. Having commitment devices helps a lot as well. They don't have to be a game comepetition and the milestone does not have to be as broad as "finish the game", but it's still important to have them anyway.
This one is a no-brainer and I already knew the importance of this but I'll say it again just because it's a good lesson to take to heart. Please have other people play your game for you! They will find bugs, errors in logic, and mechanics that don't click much faster than you ever will. I was guilty of playtesting my game myself to death before ever showing it to any of my peers. The faster you get other eyes on your game the better the end result will be. Trust me when I say that it will save you from a great deal of headaches down the road.
Working with a New Engine
I had originally anticipated some trouble when starting up RPG Maker MV as I had little practice with the engine before. However, I felt that whatever I needed to learn could be done within a few days of messing around with it at most. I was horribly wrong. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. It just means that I underestimated the amount of time I would need to spend to learn a new game engine. Once I got over the learning curve it was smooth sailing.
Life happens and when things would get busy at school, I would put off working on Summoning Stones. Sometimes for weeks at a time in order to make sure I was caught up. I've learned some new scheduling techniques since then and plan to make game making a higher priority in general to avoid this happening again.
Publishing for the First Time
I had never published a game prior to Summoning Stones. I had considered publishing old games and prototypes from my past classes but never really got around to it. I knew that I wouldn't have much of a chance in getting the game greenlit on Steam and I didn't have the time to manage a greenlight campaign anyway. So I turned to another digital publisher called itch.io. The publishing process on their website is much easier than I anticipated. Within about an hour I had everything published and a neat looking store page to boot! It's fair to mention that since this is the first time I have done anything with publishing that I will be learning a lot more as more people download and play my game. I still have yet to go through the process of addressing player concerns and fixing bugs that I didn't know existed. Yet, I'm extremely excited to figure all of that out.
As a change of pace from my usual extremely story driven games I decided to focus more on the central game mechanic that I was experimenting with and less on the overall story of the game. This was especially difficult to do as I love to write and I love stories in games. Funnily enough, I am currently writing a research paper on the importance of story in keeping players engaged. Still I decided to opt for a simpler and trope filled story to save on time and resources for this project. I am glad I did though. Unintentionally I ended up appealing to the nostalgic audience more by doing this. It also gave me more time to focus on making the leveling down mechanic more fun to play and more balanced overall.
...And much more!
I am sure that there are parts in the design process I am missing, but these are the aspects of this project that stick out the most to me. Thank you all for reading this long-winded blog. If you have any interest in checking out this game head on over to: https://nenekiri.itch.io/the-summoning-stones-of-ratreyjan and give the game a try.