Thursday, September 30, 2010

Screenshot Madness

Ok, here is a couple screenshots from our upcoming RPG using our in house tile set. The first two are of the world map and the next few are of some monster types. Hope you enjoy:

Wow, what's with that huge shadow in the background?

Looks peaceful enough.

Hope he's on our side.

We'll be sending Blizzard a check.

So there you have it, just a few images of the game in progress. Development is going fairly well, I am currently developing the combat engine, and will post my experiences as we go along. I don't anticipate the combat engine to be anywhere near easy, but we'll see how things turn out. Cheers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Analysis - why Breath of Death VII was a success and Aphelion was not

After reading the very useful post-mortem posted by Zeboyd recently, I have decided to do my own analysis as to why I believe BoD VII sold over 30,000 copies and is still regularly selling over 50 copies a day versus Aphelion which has topped off at approximately 3 - 4,000 copies.

To put this in perspective one must first look at not just sales but the time to reward ratio as well. BoD was made in about 3 months. It was sold for $1. Lets say for convenience sake that it will continue to sell approximately 50 copies a day for the next 6-7 months. I'm using this fairly optimistic estimate because I believe that once they release their next game, sales for the original will spike for a short time. For all intensive purposes that is another 10,000 copies, and will bring the total to 40k. That is approximately 13.3k copies per month spent working on the game multiplied by a factor of 1 = 13.3k.

I'll be optimistic and use a 5:1 ratings to sales ratio for Aphelion and say that it sold 3.5k copies. Over the next 9 or so months I think it will sell about 2-3 copies per day and top off at about 4k copies. It took about 1.5 years to develop and certainly was a more ambitious project than BoD. That's about 220 copies per month spent working on the project, but since it was sold for $3 its factor is 660.

The ratio between the two games favors BoD by a factor of 20:1, a huge margin. Why is this? Aphelion was a very ambitious project and is a nicely put together RPG, yet it falls far short.

1) Price point - This I think is a misconception. Although the trial to sales ratio's are generally lower on the $3 games, they are not an overwhelming amount lower than the 1:3 ratio required to make up the difference. The main benefit of pricing at $1 is that you will sell to 3 times the amount of people and still make a comparable amount of money. However, I believe that if a game is just that good, it will sell more than enough to have been the right move financially. Beat Hazard, RC-Airsim and Kodu game lab come to mind. All fantastic games, all high conversion rates, all big movers. I'll say price point was a slight advantage for Zeboyd.

2) Box art - This is where I think BoD blew away Aphelion. The box art for BoD is just perfect upsell for an indie game. It has a title that makes you scratch your head but also identify with an RPG. If that isn't enough it essentailly tells you "look this is an old school funny RPG so buy it". Perfect! The box art is also reminiscent of an 8 bit type of cover, something of a hybrid beginning the NES and Sega Master system box art. I'll go ahead and say this is an overwhelming advantage for Zeboyd.

3) Marketing - Another strong point for Zeboyd, because they didn't shamelessly plug the game but instead used their love of games and influence in big forums such as Penny Arcade to casually mention that they were coming out with a game, and the game is influenced by a love of old RPGs. They got the right reviews at the right times and maintain a nice website that updates their status, reviews other indie games, talks about the trials and tribulations of making a game and just feels human. I really didn't know much at all about Aphelion and finding information about the game was available but fairly sparse, although Zeboyd did review it. Zeboyd also is very active in the xna forums, where lunatic studios made more of an appearance when they needed a review. Large advantage Zeboyd.

4) Ambition - BoD is not really all that ambitious. Don't get me wrong, that game was probably more ambitious than 99% of xna games, but it was fairly straight forward in terms of RPGs. A text based combat system lacking animations, no sub interior maps for inns and shops etc, nothing really event driven outside of dialog, the story was fairly simple. However, what they did they did to perfection and the message of the game was completely clear. Also, I believe that less is more. The clearly defined purpose of an old school retro parody RPG resonated very well in the game. I got what I expected and that's just fine. Aphelion did not grab me during the trial period. Ok, we're on a ship and the shit is about to go down so we have to get the hell out of dodge. I've been there a 100 times and Phantasy Star has done it better every time. Also, Aphelion was just too damn ambitious. It looks pretty good, and plays fairly well, but it just feels a little off overall. The characters feel like they are sitting on a completely different level than the backgrounds, the combat animations don't have enough frames and the menu systems kind of replicate Mass Effect, but I don't know if they were aware that the menus were one of the biggest flaws of the first Mass Effect. Zeboyd made an 8 bit game that looked better than any 8 bit RPG ever and had a more robust combat system than say an early Dragon Warrior game. So although not as ambitious BoD was made in about 1/6th the time and was an exemplification of that era. Aphelion just looked like a mediocre hodgepodge of the 32-128 bit era. Big advantage BoD.

4) Story/Humor - To be frank, BoD did not have much of a story, nothing memorable at least, but what it did have was laughs, and it had them early and often, a big upsell during the trial period. Humor is a decidedly mixed bag in an RPG, but I think they were effective at selling it for the most part. It's clear that these guys have played their games and other gamers can identify with people like them. Aphelion really wasn't funny at all, not that it intended to be and the story was pretty standard fare. I don't think it sucked at all, but I wasn't enthralled by it. I'll say that humor won't always work, and that any RPG is going to benefit the most from a strong story and engaging characters, but this is still a fairly large advantage for Zeboyd.

5) Gameplay - BoD is fast paced, pick up and play, and generally just an RPG on crack. It worked. I felt the combat was somewhat unbalanced, but they acknowledge this on their website and it's nowhere near terrible. It's hard to balance all those numbers, believe me we're finding out the hard way. The leveling system was quite good as well. Aphelion was just a little too complex for the average xna guy.

6) Music - Good music in BoD but fairly good music for Aphelion too, this is probably a wash.

Ok, that's a wall of text but I feel this is worthy of analysis since they're the only two true RPG's on the market and that just frankly sucks. I hope that others come out with some in the next year or so. My guess is that they'll be 5 by the time we release, with CSTW being the 3rd. Light's End is almost an RPG, and is pretty cool for what they were trying to do, but nowhere near conventional. Everything else in that category really just isn't anything beyond a prototype or something that marks itself in the wrong genre. After this analysis it seems pretty clear to me why BoD did so well. If I didn't mention it already, the title for BoD makes you think RPG and the title Aphelion makes you think nothing really. You're better off just putting the letters RPG on the box art and shipping it out at this point.

To the future of RPG's. By the way, our overworld tileset is done and I'm furiously making the final version of the world map. I'll put some screen shots up shortly. Maybe even some monsters to go along with it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Some lessons learned.

There are a few things I have learned thus far in the making of an RPG. My hope is that some of these lessons will help other upstarts get going in the process.

Do not make an RPG before you have a fully fleshed out Game Design Document. Some games can get away without having one, this one cannot. Also, realize that you are going to have to revise it over and over again, but don't get too hung up on the revisions, or discouraged that it always has to change. It's just a fact of life.

Have a good project management system. It's likely that a team making an RPG on any significant scale will not to able to do so alone. Establish a team, call your talented friends, look online, hire out if you have to, just get a team. Once you have the team make sure that the team is somewhat organized and at least one person knows what is going on with everyone. We use dropbox for all of our shared documents and it's kind of a nice way to get access to documents on the fly. The 2 gb limitation on the free account might get annoying, but probably not for projects on this scale.

Make a database. I would suggest looking at old tabletop gaming books and see how they establish themselves and base your database off of that. It should include the entire bestiary, with fleshed out descriptions, statistics (both explicit and derived), the amount of experience and gold they will give once defeated, who they can be grouped with, where they can be found and what they drop. Don't forget about all the special attacks and magic. A lot right. Yeah. Too bad the database also needs all advanced stats for your own characters, including a lot of projections about what level they will be at certain points of the game, taking into account the golden path player and the endless grinder. Look at how much gold the party will need to optimize their gear in the next town and base the enemy drops off of that. It really goes on and on and these are just a few tips. Our database ended up being about 15 sheets, averaging 30 columns and 60-80 lines. x * y* z = a hell of a lot.

If you guys have a local team, and I highly recommend this, have meetings. Meetings once every two weeks or so are good for morale, and also lets the whole team know what everyone is doing. It's also a good workshop opportunity where you can pick one task that needs to get done and do it collectively. Which brings me to my last lesson learned.

You probably have an assigned task on a team, but don't be afraid to dip into other things. We are indie after all. The hierarchy should be grounded but at the same time somewhat flexible. Sometimes your story writer has to work on the tileset, fact of life.

Last thing, take breaks after you established something. Go to the bar, don't get too wasted if you have to work tomorrow and talk about how great this game is going to be and how much it's goin to change your life. Talk about your dreams to move to LA and get hitched to some movie star. This is the time to do it, since reality will check in when the buzz checks out.

There have been like two RPG's on XBLIG that I have a great deal of respect for. I think both teams will be successful, and our goal is to not 1-up them, but to compliment them and maybe establish the platform most well known for zombie-avatar-fortune cookie-ninja killing-massage apps and turn it into at least a respectable place for RPG's.

As we get closer to completion, Ill post the game design document we have as a reference tool for new teams, and perhaps even the database upon completion.