Click to Play!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Battle Gem Ponies DevLog #157 (Study the Competition)

     Another week flew by and somehow I spent most of it in planning/prepping mode instead of programming crunch. One link led to another and I ended up researching marketing techniques, storytelling tips, Lets Plays of competitor's games, game design breakdowns, and tons of RPG reviews. All while comparing what I saw with the notes, documents, and files I have open for Battle Gem Ponies. 

     Every part of me so badly wants this game to be perfect. Seems like I've become addicted to double checking my work before it's even finished. Time to fix that. This next week has to be ALL gamedev. One by one I have to knock out bugs and add in features.

     But thanks to this past week of knowledge binging, I can go in knowing exactly how high the bar is. Take a look at this week's blog to see how I intend to counter BGP's potential shortcomings and how I think it'll manage to stand next to some pretty established RPGs.

Gotta make sure BGP is more clickable than all these...  
  • Added to Placeholders & Reorganized Tiles More
  • Found Even More Free Assets
  • Made a List of Pixel Artists to Contact for Future Projects
  • Added to List of YouTubers (at least 200 more)
  • Wrote More Quirky Scenarios to Give Each Route Some Charm
  • Stored Away Lots of Random Ideas for Sequel Ponies
  • Wrote More Details on Marketing Plan for Sequel
  • Tested Spritesheet Method of Importing Pony Sprites
  • Renamed & Reorganized Sprite Files for Easier Access
  • Studied Let's Plays of Nexomon, EvoCreo, and Micromon to Compare
  • The Game that Inspired Me to Dev is Coming Out Soon (Them's Fightin' Herds)
     Lessons Learned:
  • Thinking up a game's story and entire world of interactions can't take place in one sitting. For future projects I'll just have to know that new ideas will pop up all throughout development.
  • I keep thinking up new story elements that make things cohesive at random points throughout the day, and having an exact map plotted out makes it that much easier to see where each thing fits in. 
  • Before the big release, I'll need to update my YouTuber spreadsheet and contact each one to try to get a sale out of every single person who looks like a potential BGP fan. Whatever I have to say, show do to get them. It will be done.
  • Like a door to door salesman, I have to master the elevator pitch, being relatable & friendly, and show how buying my product will improve their lives. 
  • There has to be a reason for my game to exist while these other ones do. What am I doing differently and how do I quickly convey that to players? Questions to think about when pitching this idea.
       I'm hoping my game stands up next to the similar games on the app store or even surpasses them. After skimming through multiple playthroughs of each, studying their mechanics, storylines, characters, and art styles, then looking at the game I have written down in Google Docs, I think I stand a chance.

     Going in I can already see some potential negatives compared to the others (Nexomon particularly, since that's the one with the biggest budget & team). The big ones I can see coming are "there aren't enough ponies"/"not enough variety"/"keep seeing the same 40 over and over", "too bad you can't see the trainers close up"/ "None of the humans are drawn", and "the graphics could be better"/"Nexomon art style looked better."

     To shortly address each of those in turn: I'm going with quality over quantity with the battle roster, I want to leave the humans to the player's imagination, and I'm going for a vibrant, consistent pixel art look that feels like if the DS era Pokemon games were entirely 2D and ran at a smooth 60 FPS.

     Sure, not counting Ponatina or the legends, there's about 40 ponies to fill out the whole map. But I've spread them out evenly enough so that you aren't overwhelmed with new faces (well, except for in the beginning when everything is new to you). It should be an exciting thing to spot a new type of pony and you should see how it interacts with the ones you already know. And each pony has an alpha encounter, giving more personality to each one alongside all the flavor text. 

     I'll also be using trainers to demonstrate the different ways they can be used in battle with specific movesets, team combos, and item loadouts. Every pony is going to look great and do something special, compelling players to actually catch and use them all!

     Together, this is meant to make each pony more memorable and meaningful. Nobody here is a throwaway monster you trade up for something more strong and rare. You should feel compelled to use your favorites throughout the entire game, but also be tempted to experiment with new team members and combinations. Every player who beats the entire game should walk away with working knowledge of how every pony works, acts, or even smells like (seriously, I added that flavor text in there Undertale style). 

     So believe me, I want there to be a ton more ponies, but I'm just one guy and this project has already gone on for 4 years. The sequel will have hundreds of ponies, but I gotta make this initial game feasible first so I can take my time with a second one. Or even throw money at it to hire some help and double my output.

There's a reason you only see these in-game and no
anime-styled closeups.
     Players can interpret the human characters however they want. Yes, first and foremost, the humans only have overworld sprites because of a cost-cutting measure. I'm saving time because I know I can't draw people that well, especially  in pixel form, and I also have a specific look for them in mind that might not translate well into pixels at all. 

If I had my way, the characters would look a lot like 
the ones in the Pokemon Adventures manga.
Little people with big, expressive faces and readable hands/feet.
Rounded edges everywhere. Maybe some thicker borders
and definitely some vibrant colors.
     I'd rather have players interpret and imprint the way they do with Undertale's Frisk character and the various NPCs of that world you never see big detailed sprites of. The goal here is to encourage fan art which can help spread awareness, but maybe also help me find artists to commission for the next game...

     Gotta admit. Nexomon has a good look. Like, I wanna legit work with some of these guys because I'd like to see what a hand drawn BGP art style would be like. And those character portraits and cutscene still images they use are exactly what I envisioned for BGP2. 

     But I'd argue BGP's art does stand tall next to that. Just in a different way. In my eyes, it perfects what I like to see in pixelated RPGs. Vibrant colors, simple highlights and shadows, detailed yet simple sprites, expressive animations, and varied tilesets. 

In order: EvoCreo, Micromon, Nexomon

     In one sense, it feels like I need to play catchup to these guys (the EvoCreo team collaborated with the Micromon guys to make Nexomon). But in a different way, it feels like I'm the next step up in the pixel art direction EvoCreo was going for.

     When picking apart what I like and don't like for each, I snagged my character proportions from EvoCreo (big-headed, tall sprites on smaller tiles) but made the environments more sharp and colorful to make the world almost as interesting as the inhabitants. I'm envious of the battle scene background artwork, but I believe the BGP interface is more readable. 

     Micromon's got the overworld color pop I'm going for, but I feel like the black pen outlines on everything makes it all less easy on the eyes. Looking at Nexomon tright below it, the softer borders makes a world of difference and I should keep that in mind for finalizing BGP's tileset and characters. No solid black outlines.

     Then comes the battle scenes of the latter two. The Micromon team cut out the back sprites in their sequel and opted to flip the sprite like me. Except a mistake I see is how some of the monsters have poses specifically designed to face the player from the enemy side, and when the player is using them, it kinda looks like they're just presenting their butts to the opponent. To me it just doesn't look right, which is why I prefer the angle I'm using and the way I framed the interface along the top and bottom of the screen. There's dedicated room for all the action and I don't have to worry about obscuring anything in that rectangle of space. 

     Plus, the dynamic camera and Final Fantasy 6 side view of the action saves me from having to draw animated backsides to every pony. And the frees me up to focus on more impressive/expressive animations for each character instead of standard idle bouncing with a few thrust frames like all of these examples have.

Battle Gem Ponies

     Just imagine this with a bit more polish. I'm thinking subtle shadows under everybody in the overworld and some fancy filters/lighting in certain areas. Gotta work on having a nice fancy text box too (the black one seems too boring compared to others I've seen). And there will definitely be more interesting backgrounds made up for the battle scene. A different one for every location.

     Sometimes I still surprise myself when I open up the app on my phone and see the game running for real in its intended resolution. I can't believe how good it looks and I feel so proud for making something so cool. I think if I can just get it in people's hands, they'll be impressed because for some reason my capture software just isn't doing the game justice.

I think $5 is reasonable. But will the average player agree?
     Lastly, I have to be ready to face objections to paying $5 for the full version of this app. I'm counting on my message of "No Free-To-Play scam nonsense!" and "No Pay-to-Win microtransactions allowed!" gets to people and hits home. There's a specific image of me that I want to get through.

     This is a game made by one ambitious, passionate, creative, and determined Pokemon fan who spent years trying to bring a vision to life and just wants a ton of people to play it while also being fairly compensated so he can make more.


     I got my first 100 subs on YouTube! Humble beginnings, amirite? If you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe so you're more likely to see when a new trailer or development video comes up (I might whip up something for the Alpha release). A high subcount on YouTube mainly serves to make me look more legitimate to newcomers, which is always helpful. 

     With Nexomon coming to Android next month following a pretty popular Let's play of their game by a famous PokeTuber, and EvoCreo 2 on the way, these are going to be the games people will likely compare mine to. We all fall under the "Not-Pokemon for Mobile" category and if I want to justify charging more upfront for mine, I need to give people solid reasons why this deserves their cash (money that most users don't feel like spending on mobile games in the first place).

     Putting up a game made by one person that looks good or even possibly better than similar games made by entire teams should be an impressive feat that gaming journalists might want to talk about. Or at least be something that Youtubers would want to relay to their audience. 

     I'm just hoping my game comes out and doesn't get drowned out. Or somehow come out too late and miss the boat entirely. I'll be doing everything I can to make BGP a standout mobile gaming experience for 2018. I want to make something that changes the way the entire market is perceived. A game that makes the app store feel more like a place where quality handheld experiences can rise to the top without a catch.

No comments:

Post a Comment