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Makin' It Up - Part X - The Reckoning

NOV 12 2010 
Makin' It Up - Part X - The Reckoning
Author: Space Lizard

Last time: Boss fightin'.

Today's music choice: Curiosity. Yes, I made another one! This one is specifically for random maps; it's so mellow and "happy" that I wasn't sure whether I wanted it to be for "city" type areas or what it is now at first. Speaking of which...

Progress Report: Random maps are done, suckas!

It's the constellation "The Big Gipper"

Basically a semi-interesting way to try out weapons, hunt for items, and pump up the playtime clock. They're not just trawling for loot and fighting the occasional battle, though. Sometimes you'll find long-lost words of wisdom in the wreckage, and if you're really, really lucky, a very special bit of data...

I'm getting pretty close to releasing a demo. It's looking like it'll be a month ahead of schedule! Of course, I have lots and lots of time off in December which I could use to polish and expand, so I may do that instead. So is this the end of Makin' It Up? The last chapter in an ever-increasingly dull series of rants about video games? God, I hope so (even though that'll mean even less content on this site to look forward to), but I've saved the best for last! Or, at least, the update with the most pictures for last! Today's update is all about the histories of these two games, including alternate origins, cut content, and super secret trivia that I don't think I have told anyone else! Strap in, cause this is my longest post yet!

Firstly, The Reconstruction, aka "that other game with the painfully generic title." I do not know why I chose such a title, except for a couple of name dropping instances within the game itself. The original design doc which established the setting and the overall "feel" of the dialog was done back in 2001 for an assignment in college. We had to make design docs for text adventures, and mine ended up being some obscene length (over 100 pages), with branching paths and multiple endings. It sported a crude skill system where you could choose a "talent," a "trait," and a "flaw" at the beginning, which would change the outcome of certain situations. The only things that really carried over between that design and the current one are some plot points, the island-based geography and idea of contrasting cultures, the (true) ending, and the overall cynical-without-being-vulgar writing style of which I am so fond. So, yeah, it wasn't an RPG at all.

Sometime during this transition phase where I was out of the game-design loop, RPG Maker XP was released. I was pretty enamored by the earlier versions while I was in high school, and I got a real kick out of making the Events system do things it's not meant to do. I started messing around with XP, seeing if I could make up some nonstandard play mechanics and wedge them into this otherwise oft-mocked little program. Early attempts included such gimmicks as:

  • A Suikoden style character collect-a-thon with standard fantasy classes for each character and quite a bit of overlap. I sort of kept the character-collecting idea, but the present Roster went down to less than 20.

  • A battle system based on a sort of rhythm minigame for each turn. As it turned out, the engine is considerably more laggy than I anticipated, so I scrapped this.

  • A tactics-style battle system. It was still a little laggy, but it worked pretty well, including such features as back-attacks and spell ranges. I assigned four static skills to every player character, and had a starter team of six finished for testing, each with a different role (aside from the banal Fighter/Mage/Priest/Thief tradition). This project file got corrupted at some point - in 2005 maybe? - and I didn't have a recent backup at the time, so I pitched a hissy and scrapped it. Looking back, it was more of a proof of concept anyway, and the story was pretty rudimentary, but I kept the notion of a set number of skills (5 now, plus two passive ones) and that every character should have a "class" with a nonstandard role for the real thing.

  • Another idea I toyed with was the lack of by-the-numbers experience or leveling - characters had specific growth rates for specific stats and would go up with specific actions in battle. This mostly carried over into The Reconstruction, except without the growth rates thing. Characters get skill/mana points for upgrading abilities depending on what they do in battle, and three different kinds of experience which can be used to "buy" stats. No levels, though.

So yeah, I messed around with a lot of ideas while I still had way too much free time. Thank God I don't have much of that any more, huh?

Back on track, I added "Quest Mode" out of my own dislike for wandering around towns trying to find the one NPC who will advance the plot, which is a delightful timesink found in many jRPGs. In The Reconstruction, the next guy you need to talk to is in plain sight, with a big honkin' red exclamation point floating over his head.

"Adventure Mode" was actually an idea sparked from a friend who was trying out RPG Maker XP. He wanted to see an RPG that combined a tactical shooter with standard battles; that is, the placement of your teammates on the map would have an effect on who participates when a conflict begins. I thought this would be a pretty neat idea, so I swiped it from him (sorry Geoff) and wrote out a "character switching" event in RMXP as well as a method of picking which characters near the engagement point would participate. I settled on a "Charisma" stat, since I was still in a fantasy mindset. I also added the ability to group characters together so they could move as one, as all that swapping can be frustrating on big maps. In practice, didn't work out as well as I'd like, considering most of the maps were big outdoor areas where this assist feature was rarely used. I still think it could have been an interesting idea though, dag nabbit.

The battle system and its gimmick - instead of HP and MP, you get Body, Mind, and Soul ratings for all participants - was a flash of insight I had in the shower one day. Actually, I get lots of those in the shower. The weapons/armor and element systems quickly followed and seemed to fit in pretty well, so I scrawled out a crude design doc and set to work on concept pieces that I'd try to recreate using events and inline scripting in RMXP. I like drawing out mock-ups in Photoshop or whatever before programming a layout (and you should too!), and here was the result:

Mockup (scaled down to fit in this piddly div tag), circa 2005-ish.

The real deal, from 2009. Also scaled down. Slight modifications to the Chain counter and the "board" and I took out the goofy color flags meant to label the characters and used tiny faces instead.

Enough history nonsense, let's look at another kind of nonsense altogether! Names. I don't just name things all willy-nilly, oh no. Here's another little bulleted list about names in The Reconstruction that I wrote out at some point. It's still pretty accurate though. I think.

  • No fewer than four names are 1990s computer-related jokes.

  • Two characters were named and (generally) designed by friends of mine. You know who you are. Two more were inspired/named by one other person but he probably wouldn't remember it if I told him today.

  • Three characters are named for Central American mythological beings.

  • Two characters were named by typographical errors made by the same person. I feed off his mockery.

  • Check this out: One character has a slightly misspelled name taken from a mythological being who in turn was historically misnamed due to a typographical error.

  • One character is named for a cryptid.

  • Three characters (and one minor NPC) have names referring to the Phantasy Star RPG series. I thought this was a good idea at the time for some reason.

  • Many characters have 4-letter-long names, including the entire Fih'Jik race. This is deliberate. Ever played an NES?

  • Fortian characters have deliberately "Italian"-sounding names. We all know where the greatest minds of the Renaissance era were from, after all.

  • At least five characters have been renamed since my original design for one reason or another.

  • One name was formed for one of the reasons above from another name, which I implemented, unknowing that this new name was the actual name of someone who had been in the news recently. I insist it was 100% unintentional. Vague enough for ya?

Whew, that was long and obnoxious. How about some stories of secrets and cut content instead?

Two quests were cut because of various reasons. Both are very obvious, but in different ways. The first is the penultimate quest in Chapter 4, where your party meets Havan and the Watchers just outside the Si`Shra Holyland. Yes, this was quite obviously meant to be another on-rails escort style quest, but I was so sick of working on that chapter (and the setting and enemies were really long in the tooth already) that I just said "welp, it's done, here ya go" and cut it out. The second one I have no excuse for - I even accidentally left a reference to it in the quest roster so it looks like there's an impossible-to-find quest that can never be completed. (Bug on my part, but not worth the trouble to fix that one reference and upload/release an entirely new copy of the game. Sorry!) The quest was meant to take place in Kir`Ssha (the black sandy place) after completing the initial food gathering ordeal. Basically, all the wild animals outside the city would sense the Night coming, and would be trying to burrow/skitter their way past the walls trying to get to warmth/shelter before this could happen, and it would be your job to keep out or otherwise forcibly remove them. I don't know why I cut this one. Maybe there was a technical reason, I can't remember, but it sounded interesting and would have added to the sense of dread with the Night approaching. Maybe I was just sick of that gray tileset, since the other lone quest in that city took for-fucking-ever to map out and implement. I was proud of it, though. Probably my favorite quest in the game.

Unsurprisingly, there were cut characters, too! Everyone's favorite slave-trader -turned-familyman-turned-slave-himself Yacatec was originally intended to join your party after you saved his bacon in Chapter 4. He would have used darts or some other thrown weapon, and had "negotiation" type skills in lieu of magic, but with an offensive slant (unlike Ques, who leaned defensive). I guess I realized I had too damn many characters, so he got relegated to "karma's a bitch" territory instead. Similarly, Syri was slated to join up at the 11th hour, which I decided was too late to be adding characters, so I left her fate to be unknown (though it probably wasn't a good one). She would have been a fast attacker, like Rehm, with skills based on evasion and avoiding targeting. Sorry, cat lovers, but she got the axe.

One last batch of trivia before I move to I Miss the Sunrise. Secret stuff! Stuff you might not have picked up on! Stuff I didn't explain very well, if at all! Who knows! Let's take a look.

Relationships! Several characters have relatives that are either vaguely or overtly hinted at. For instance, we learn in his sidequest that Tehgonan's father really dislikes Shra people. We also know that he comes from a wealthy heritage, and his last name is Clapian. How many other Clapians have we met during the course of the game? By the way, that one is super obvious, so if you didn't notice it then I hate you. Taru "Private" Clapian is Tehgonan's father.

Similarly, Yfus's confrontation with his father reveals some background about his family; most notably, his brother. Who is apparently someone very influential in Kir`Ssha. Someone who recognizes him without prompting. This one's easy to miss, since both participants are flippant about meeting each other. Yfus and Zaka are brothers.

More family issues! We learn from Mahk Sikohlon that he adopted and raised three sons way back, who each adopted sons of their own. We know one of these fathers is Dehl's lunatic daddy, who is never named. We know the second is Rehm's, uh, "master", who is also never named and presumed dead at the start of the game. We never learn anything about the third. Or do we? Did we ever meet someone who would be about the right age, who exhibits the traits of the other Sikohlon - subtly, maybe, and who may or may not outright say something that gives himself away? You're god damned right we do. "Scourgelord" Skint is the third Sikohlon father. No, really. When Dehl asks him that very question when they meet, he doesn't answer in the negative, now does he? Also, his last words are "Brother Dehl" in case I needed to beat you over the head with it further. Basically, he is what Dehl would have become if he'd followed the same path - being betrayed by a close friend, going berserk, and growing a perma-scowl. We know Dehl snaps out of it by the end, though. Right?

Another obvious one, but Dehl's father's complete meltdown explains a lot of things. He's not just rambling unintelligibly; in the context of what he's done it makes perfect sense. He created the Blue Plague in a rather ham-handed attempt to stop people from shedding blood, but he lost control of it and it became too powerful. He knew - disturbingly - that Shra blood resisted the infection more than that of others, so he went crazy trying to figure out how to isolate a cure. Moke was already infected, of course, who was brought to the mainland with Dehl, who infected Skint, who was stabbed in the back and infected those around him (hence "Scourgelord"), who in turn infected basically everyone else in the world and quickly halted the peasant/Nalian revolt. So in a twisted way, the plague did prevent further violence.

Falitza isn't actually a psychic. She just got a lot of lucky guesses (she does manipulate "fate" in her favor, after all). For that matter, neither are the Watchers, though that should be obvious. Nothing magical or mysterious about their abilities; just Clarke's Law in action again.

Moke (despite being arguably the most overpowered character in the game) sure has a lot of weird shit going on, especially in his sidequest. We know his long-term memory was wrecked by the plague, but there are a few other oddities to look for. His eyes are white, which is a subtle hint that he's not quite the same as the others. Also, it's implied numerous times that he has something to do with the Si`Shra, and specifically the "Lesser" that killed Tez. And those weird robed guys sure don't help matters. Unfortunately, all I can say is that it will have to wait for a sequel proper, as I like the whole ~shrouded in mystery~ rut I've dug myself in to.

So how did Tezkhra (and for that matter, Mahk) end up in this world in the first place? That's a big question that is only lightly touched upon, because the answer doesn't lie within the "rules" of that world, which is a big recurring theme, you know. Also, what happened to the guy who killed Tez, and just what happened to that last emitter that he is supposed to be looking for? Alas, the answers to these will have to wait for I Miss the Sunrise.

Speaking of which! Let's look briefly at the already-brief history of IMTS! I won't go into depth on its origin (since I already did so in the veeeery first article) but I will talk about what it was and what it could have been!

Surprisingly, my initial design was not like the first game at all! It was actually a top-down hex-style turn based strategy game with dozens of controllable allies and huge maps. It was to be mouse-controlled and high-resolution, and basically not affiliated with RPG Maker at all. I was using another tool and actually had an early prototype working that included character creation, simple dialog and response handling, saving, loading, and cutscenes. Unfortunately, this chosen tool turned out to be complete garbage. I will say that one time, it crashed so hard, it actually wiped out the newest autosaved backup file as well. It takes real dedication to make something so spectacularly terrible. Also the community was the pits. Enough words! Here are some screenshots of the game you'll never play!

Character creation. Functionally the same in the new version, and even reuses several graphics.

Talkin' wit' a space lizard. Dialog scenes were going to be from a first-person perspective, hence our enormous friend here. Of note: I still can't draw.

Would you fuckin' believe my luck. These are the only two screenshots I have left, and I have no idea how I took them, because this program is so awful that you can't use Print Screen to take a picture. So these are the only images I can share. The rest was pretty much UI stuff anyway, so just use your imagination. I also had a PSD file somewhere with my concept for how battles would look, but shockingly, I can't find that either. Shit.

Well, anyway, a few other things changed when I switched to RPG Maker VX. In my initial design, the large fleet-on-fleet battles were the norm, because I had the twisted idea that every single NPC you come across could be recruited somehow, at some point. This would have allowed for over a hundred playable allies; however, they were functionally very different from what they are now - they only had one weapon, which was a specific type and property of attack, so the strategy became seeking out proper targets and either "ganging" up on them using certain allies or trying to draw attention away from weakened friends. All I can say is, thank god I went for a more traditional route, though I am holding on to the "vast army" idea for something down the road...

Speaking of which, how's the outlook on IMTS now? Well, it's episodic, with the soon-to-come Episode Zero being tiny in comparison, as it's more like a demo or proof-of-concept than anything. I've planned for 10 episodes in all, and hopefully now that the nitty-gritty technical side is done (minus the feedback and polishing to come) I will be able to keep pieces of the real game coming. Who knows, though! As you have seen, my progress tends to be glacial at best sometimes. I've got two things going for me, though - random maps to hopefully keep a player occupied in the meantime, and re-playability in the form of differently-created characters (a total pacifist and a rough asshole will have different interaction options with your allies, for instance). I just hope I'm not digging myself into a hole on the off chance that I move on or lose interest partway through, but that's another rant for another day!
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