Friday, October 3, 2014

This was going to be a post.

But then it wasn't... not on the place I was originally going to link it, so here's me talking about my criticisms for my old game and the new enthusiasm I harbor for it's Remastered edition.

I released a game back in late 2013 two years in development called Menagerie, and while the heart of a game was there, it fell short in a lot of aspects, delivery, storytelling and one of the most ventilated features, space exploration was cut down very rudely to get it in on time for a release date. Of which I believe severely hampered it.

Foreword and thoughts on the Classic.
I think it's safe to say that I really tried to do too much in one game, even with a development cycle of which it had. It tried to tackle the compulsion to linear-locked universes, strapped around the concepts of communism VS imperialism, utopia VS dystopia and freedom VS imprisonment, alongside pagan religion being invented by two huge trolls who are in fact demigods, and the ending only serving to ejaculate that Intelligence foreshadowed it, rather than trying to be it's own outcome.

The characters were by far an even weaker link, supported by not their mutual interest, but just to see the ending whatever it was, leading to the plot and characters feeling like automatons to a purpose which was predestined 400 years in the future.

I went whole hog with flying in the face of American endings of 'good guys win, all is well' but I fucked it up traumatically by not realizing that such can only work well if the departure of such characters is meaningful. I was watching some in depth reviews on the Zelda games recently, and despite the ending for twilight princess being sad, it was emotionally investing.

Menagerie broke more rules that it should and [i]shouldn't[/i] have, flying in the face of every archetype, system and design philosophy present in games to a certain degree, and homogenized key concepts it may have invented far beyond palpable exploration.

One big thing it touted was Rainbow Potions serving the same effect in the world they did in death, however, this was only done faithfully once or twice, and you'd think that the elves coulda been brought back too. This is never even gone into, because I saw an opportunity, implemented it, and never thought once of what may coincide with essentially the idea of characters, having no disadvantage to death.

This made the scene at the end where both Spooky and Tac were killed, seem utterly pointless, and since Zardari raised them back anyway-- it is reasonable to question if such a scene was even necessary at all. Especially since their fates after were just as stone-set, if less brutal and more of a choice on their part.

There was also significantly less satisfactory results for users with lower end systems, especially during the epic picture cutscenes, the blatant lineage with homestuck was also intrusive.

That's not even to mention the imbalanced accessory crafting, the lack of a difficulty curve and day one game-breakers forced on me by as deadline I should have discarded.

My biggest fuck up was giving myself a time window, rather than a Progress log. A deadline isn't an incentive for me, it's an impending Doom, and will only cause me to procrastinate until the time is nigh.

A progress log is rewarding for both myself and for the players. I only wish I'd discovered it earlier.

Overall, I feel like Menagerie was a very subpar product compared to the usual amount of effort I put into making stories and characters believable, and since the original ideas for it are really good, I'm gonna try fixing what is broke just once.

The Divide Between Worlds.
The plan with Menagerie: Remastered is to lay the ground rules, and stick by them, several things are going to only be alluded to through visual representation of a concept rather than dialogue. Here's one example... some of you may have noticed that Galaxia's planetary image is different now, why is that?

Over the course of Development... and after it, Galaxia has become incredibly well defined, so the odd looking catamari didn't really suit. The thing to remember is that Galaxia is gritty underneath, but tidy and awesome on the surface. It was important that Galaxia get the model it deserves, but staying true to the psychedelic tone of the original. We aren't going to enter gritty realism because while the undertones themselves are gritty, the planet in its base is not a gritty place to live.

Galaxia is essentially a Utopia where most are able to live out their dreams and ambitions, and are even encouraged by both corporations and cohorts to do so. It's a place established mostly by hedonism, that... while being awesome, can sometimes go too far. Most who live on Galaxia live out an incredibly happy, well-fulfilled existence. The rare few betrayed are those who question the system, their race and themselves. Galaxia is very much based on a formula that works until a defective emerges. Defectives like Tac, Spooky, Lyza and a few others often can't find comfort in their society doing what they are encouraged to do. However, some get through it longer than others, Tac didn't become effected by the defective state until her concern for extraterrestrials had a chance to unravel itself. Even in the court case, which is one of the best showings of Galaxia's dark undertones, the environment is spotless, crisp and clean. I feel this adds to the immersion of Galaxia... in fact it's possible I'm going to edit its tilesets a little to reflect how spotless a Utopia driven by a formula can be.

Nadine similarly, is in contrast a fantasy world where magic is thought of not as a gift, but is a part of everyday life as is nature itself. Several religious figures circulate the history of the world, even if two of them are just abusing it for kicks. Though all six demigods tie into it, it's all very subtle, and their influence on it is the same as it is in most worlds. Nadine's atmosphere from the start is one that is doomed, given by the meteors that are present as soon as you step outside in the game.

However, while NPC's are aware of this, they don't see a whole lot they can do about it, and so just live out life as happily as they can. Instead of the game shitting on you for having hope, M:R will let the player's faith be rewarded, while still being tragic.

I'd hate to spoil the ending for you if you are anticipating this game, so instead let me say what I'm aiming to do right in Menagerie: Remastered (M:R) in comparison to Menagerie.

Story and Character PlanMenagerie tried to focus intently on a lot of different things, while never seeming to have an end result which wrapped any of them up. After releasing Exile and it's critical acclaim as a return to a faithful developers direction, it was evident that I'd lost the original seed for Menagerie that had sprung up so long ago.

Menagerie is a story more than any I've done before, focused on feeling lost or homeless... the characters due to circumstances, never really have felt at home in their past, and still don't in their present. I'm going to go now into why each character possesses this attribute in a completely non-linear fashion. The quests you embark on, the missions you are tasked with, it's all in the interest of finding a place and purpose in the Universe.

Fatty is the leader of the group, and this is because he did have a home once, so he is capable of remembering. He's also the oldest mortal when the game begins, having a lot of worldly differentiated experience, mingling against his desires between dwarves to elves. Making him an outcast from his home, who would have loved to keep him around, but also feeling that while they are okay, Elves are not his true family. He is 20 by the time the game begins, giving him 5 years of experience in an alien world and 15 years of experience in a homely world helps to outline that each side is only evil in its individuals without pushing it in your face. Fatty's mother is sparsely mentioned, and while his Father actually makes appearances in flashbacks, he never again is able to directly speak to his father... this helps to cement that his home is forever lost, and that his purpose is beyond trying to feel comfort in the throes of kin, now.

Fatty's strength as a leader are his abilities to adapt in situations some find very hard to allow. For instance: Spooky's existence on Nadine for majority he regards as fairly loathsome, much like Fyori is very outside of her comfort zone once she leaves Evergrove. In fact in the beginning of the game while in Evergrove, she's very quick to tell Spooky when he's acting out of line, later though Fatty takes over this role, because Fyori has no idea how society works for Dwarves and also is now out of the security she was raised in.

Gerald... while having a home, never really felt like it was his. He wanted to help in a society of live or let live. The Goblin society is one powered entirely by wealth. Which family you are born into ultimately decides your starting niche in life. However, while Gerald was raised in a fairly successful family, his mother and father distanced themselves from him in favor of business, instead of doing what most Goblin's do, and introduce their young into the world of wealth and its hardships so that when they die, which happens for Goblin's faster than most... their protege can take up their legacy.

It's never explained why Gerald's parents don't do this, which I think help fuels his lack of a home to begin with. Unlike Fyori and Fatty who at least recall or regard fondly the custodians they had or thought they had, Gerald is usually fairly aloof when describing his parents, they are never much described and while Gerald does seem to find their death tragic, he never seems to lament it later. One thing that won't be changing is the ability to pick up the blood of Gerald's parents when he returns home to find them dead, what really is genius about that particular scene is that with the bodies removed, we have absolutely no indication of what Gerald's parents looked like. I feel that this really helps drive home the fact that Gerald is an adult and child in one. Having to basically find his own niche in life which ended up being completely out of the ordinary, but it was his true calling. His appearance not only solidifies the youthful wisdom Gerald may possess, but his facial composition as well as his garments, help distinguish him as an oddity towards his kin as well as put him down as both an elder and a youth.

The same goes for Fatty, his clothes are very much of a dwarven nature, but of an Elven palette, to further single him out, he is the only dwarf in the game, with atypical black dots for eyes. I think this helps elaborate that Fatty isn't really set to either faction. Elven eyes are very elegant, deep and are open fields of wonder, while Dwarven eyes are jolly, whimsical and shallow like their habits of both labor and enjoyment. Fatty's eyes were originally going to be bright green, much like Gerald's were going to be teal, as reflected by the dialogue following their name as spoken by them in text.

However, Fatty's eyes don't feel right as anything but derpy manipulable circles, they give him a much more animated air of life, which more defined green eyes wouldn't have been able to accomplish. If you watch the last part of an old remastering of [CS] 03 Four of a Kind and see Fatty's cut in with green eyes, you'll see that in comparison to the rest of the game, it doesn't look or feel right, which is why it was changed in later builds.

The same goes for Gerald, goblin eyes by default are glum looking, whilst still possessing the spark of life, but such eyes are ones that are always suspicious. Gerald's eyes are alike Fatty's, but in a different way. Firstly, they help to make him look younger, but he can also show far more expression with a far less complicated shape.

Sometimes in cutscenes, the highlights in Gerald's eyes will be teal to reflect the color he speaks in dialogue, Fatty is an exception, as his eye color is never shown in canon, and when it is, it always looks out of place.

Spooky is a whole new story, he began life at home, but never felt there... and Spooky's whole mission throughout the game doesn't really revolve around saving Nadine or even everything, his is a quest to feel like he's home, and the end scene of the game helps demonstrate best now, that he got what he wanted. Throughout a lot of the scenes, Spooky composes himself with multiple emotional blocks and psychological defense mechanisms so that he doesn't have to begin feeling attached to the heroes in case they succeed, which renders such a friendship mutual at best... and I think that his dialogue at the end best shows how he's grown as a character, this is to say, in the version I'm working on.

The characters are all being given an identity, an agenda to call their own. Fyori is one who is in constant search of the truth, about her origins and also a lot of other things, her curiosity into the Ominous Visitors probably don't do the Menagerie many favors. Where as Gerald wants to do the right thing and help out when a hero is in need. Fatty is into brawling and adventure, and it's implied that him blowing a tunnel in the Mines with his two friends probably wasn't anything he was supposed to be doing, but did anyway because it was a way to mine quicker and was fun because explosions are cool!

Spooky as you know, is the one who seeks home, and in the end of the story, all characters get their wishes. And the biggest change to how the story flows now is that Zardari is defeated... yet, he still boasts 12,000,000 HP... so, how do you chop that off without it taking forever or feeling cheap?

Throughout the game, especially in the later stages, the gods reveal themselves to be on your side, they are more than eager to assist with Zardari... whose agenda is very defective. Zardari is also the only character in the game motivated purely by spite. For Tac it's in the interest of a more moral universe, for Spooky it's a reunion and homecoming, for Fyori it's truth and discovery and for Fatty it's exploration and adventure.

Even bit time characters like Mayeena, Orsa or Adashi have a driving force, they're no more in the wrong from their point of view than you are, and Mayeena still seems to regard Tac with respect, her job is simply more important to her. Orsa has romantic feelings for Mayeena, and his annoyance with being unable to express them because it'll make him look soft to his peers drives him to be pretty angry all the time. Adashi is all about bounty hunting, which follows from the character in IJI which he was inspired from, down to taking his failures very seriously and even facing the heroes the second time on his own turf. Adashi isn't evil, though. He directly confronts Zardari and dies in defiance of the Archbishop's plans.

The Directors also have a purpose; to fuel their people with conquest and entertainment to keep their minds occupied and away from chaos. This is much more demanding than just being a bossy tyrant. If you thought governing a country was hard, try an entire world the citizens of which all have the power to kill you. Directors work similarly to roman emperors, you're only good until you fucked up enough to be killed, for what it's worth Slik and Vind did a pretty good job. Slik serving as a moral compass to Vind's, well... vindication! I think I mentioned this on it's page, but Slik's name is a play on slapstick, and the word slick (as in; smooth) while Vind is a play on his nature as well (i.e. vindictive).

There's a lot more show don't tell going on in this Remake, in fact I can confidently state that the amount of mandatory dialogue is cut by at least 50%, because of this and other factors.

For example, you only know something when you need to, exposition is more carefully woven into the narrative, and if you're confused, there's a recap at the end of each major act to sum up what just happened, these are entirely optional as they should be.

So, what are the features to look forward to?

-Menagerie is one of the only games on the RPG Maker scene as a whole to use picture events in order to orchestrate entire cutscenes, I'm sure someone must have done it before, but I've played several rpg maker games, and the concept has been abused only briefly... Menagerie makes this possible by using a quick to draw cel-shaded style that speaks for it's own well enough to be palpable. While syncing to music that goes well in both tone and rhythm. However, on lower end systems it wasn't rare for these intensive scenes to lag, and therefore feel sluggish and the music syncing rendered obsolete. In M:R all big cutscenes will come in the form of pre-rendered videos, whether I play the audio and video seperate to avoid the sound distortion ogv files suffer from or just let people put up with it is up for debate, but I'm pretty sure the first method will be most quality while not dampening the effect on lower end systems. This also means that background sound can fade somewhat dynamically if need be. The advantages to this system are multiple, because it's rendering a simple video rather than manipulating up to five images screensize or far larger, all sluggish behavior should cease, therefore keeping syncing intact. Another advantage is being able to disperse of most of the large image files saved in the pictures directory purely for cutscenes, since the video cutscenes are most of what use the high tier animations that simply must be pre-rendered, it comes as no surprise that even though some of these oggs are 20 megabytes in filesize, I'm already seeing a decrease in the games over all size, thus making it more accessible. Due to rendering the videos post recording, i can also add effects to them without having to do it in the game itself. The side effects to this system are that video quality isn't quite as good, but because of the way all the art is so crisp in the game, it's very easy still to see what's happening. The other issue, being a bit less minor, is that applications that record from an open GL window, such as fraps, will not be able to see the movies during recording, this is a technical limitation which has happened for most games that use opengl even slightly. in Diablo II if you tried recording the cinematics with fraps, you'd see no number, and any attempt at recording would simply record a black screen whilst the cinematic sound was playing. The same happens here, so if you want to do a let's play of this, get a capture program that has the ability to record standalone in it's own window, I recommend bandicam for this.

-Despite all the flak I give myself for not fully realizing the characters, Menagerie's prime fault was how easy it was to exploit the fusion system to become incredibly powerful before you were meant to. There were also several issues with game play, such as Fatty using magma tiger form maybe once, and several abilities never seeing use. In M:R switching forms is a free action, and as a bonus heelfox has been discarded and some of it's abilities have been rolled into magma tiger form now. Some of the other characters also got changes across the board to lend them more attractive abilities, each of which should see use at least once before you clear the game.

-Many of the boss fights have been improved to encourage strategic play early on so you can be ready for later in the game. Zardari's final fight is now so much more epic I don't think words can do it justice. There have also been two additional boss battles added to early game, one to foreshadow a bit about the Ominous Visitors, another to introduce you to the power surge mechanic, basically power surge is a stackable buff that gives it's target a 100% bonus to Muscle and Magick, this can stack up to 8 times, becoming very dangerous in certain fields, however the first boss trains you about it in a 'not in your face' way so you can be ready when it's used in full force.

-Several optional bosses and areas are planned, such as Heldath, Galvana, the Necropolis, PORT4L zones, (such as 2012 Year Earth and Galaxia 1610) a black hole, and possibly most awaited, The Equation Unsolved. I'm sure some of you have played Hellcat and seen it's well done RTP recolored tilesets, at least for the Hell areas, The Necropolis is going to be less vast and open in this game, but conversely more detailed, granted, you won't be able to see all of it, the Necropolis is huge and far exceeds the Central Garrison you explore in Intelligence. Back in those times I didn't have a huge understanding of how the Necropolis would be laid out or how it would look from an outside standpoint, I didn't want to blatantly rip off scourge in Warcraft, so the Necropolis I've been making is a Hovering plague city, but lambasted with gothic architectures while holding a very futuristic vibe. Most of it's color palette relies on greens, dark greys and black, with toxic pink and shadow purple added in betwixt for good measure. Heldath is very much of an alternate thought process on Hell, it has three biomes, The Deepfreeze, which is where Seradath's Citadel is hosted, The Bloodpits, where you enter as Hellcat, and the Lavawake. Amidst there's also intermittent areas of techie grey, techno red or techno blue. Galvana is a concept I've been eager to explore, as I don't want to cave to the generic rigmarole, Alas Galvana is actually for the most part, floating around in space, with holy platforms all around much like the ones you see in the Maphael fight. This has been the plan since day one, the only area of Galvana populated by clouds is around the Temple of Galdath as seen in Gerald's intermission. The shapes of scape represent the elements surrounded, if I could be bothered making a satellite image of Heldath, it'd look like a fireball crashing into an ice blast that was in such conflict spilling blood. Where as Galvana is host to a Sun being overlayed by a moon. The Necropolis from above looks like a shattered scytheblade, with rope connecting it loosely together... When you Zoom in it's a huge metropolis of black and green, and on the cracks the ropes presented are bridges and from the valleys green slime endlessly pours into. It's really a pretty fuckin' cool world and I cannot wait to show you it in its recent concept.

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