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Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

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Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Sun Dec 10 2017 9:45pm

Greetings Shining Force Central~

I am creating this thread so I can post updates about my current Indie game Project, a ShiningForce-styled game. I hope to use this place to poke at your collective brains and listen to feedback straight from other fans of the SF series~

Introduction~

Me and a friend have been working in Unity3d on various little indie games in the past year(s). Our first big-ish project was a beat-em up with Robot-girls, it had a lot in common with Cyborg Justice (Actually, I may still have a web-playable version of this somewhere if anyone is interested...). Next I tried to get inspiration from the new X-Com games and make a skypirate tactical game (Which was to feel like a Steam-punk, anime version of Rum& Bones, if you are familiar with that board game). That one died a pretty quick death, because I felt like I was trying to reinvent too many things and couldn't really tell if I was going in a good direction or not.

After that project died, I took a few months hiatus from game design and worked on my art. I got better, and still have a lot of room for improvement, but I got to the point where I didn't feel like just drawing for drawing's sake -- I wanted to put that art to use in a game. But instead of dropping it in that Skypirate game, I got to thinking; A Shining Force-type project is something I've been dreaming of making since I was in highschool (That's a LONG time ago..), and at that moment, I told myself that there isn't anything profoundly complicated in those games.

My Co-Dev and myself share a love for SRPG (He likes the Fire Emblems, and I'm Shining person). And we totally have the skillsets to make such a project happen. Obviously, there's a lot of need for art, and the usual bottlenecks will be there in front of me -- level/map design, encounter design, town design, story design, character design, art/animation... And for the most part, all of those hats fall on to me.

Napkin math indicates that it will take me roughly a year before all the Force are drawn and animated, if I keep a steady pace. So I don't really see this project ending soon, unless I burn myself out. But at the same time, it's something I feel like I _have_ to do, so I'm going to try and keep on trucking. Thankfully, if I get tired of art or level design, I can always go and poke shaders, code, or write dialog lines.

Still, in order to allow my co-dev to create features, I will have to touch a bit of everything -- background, maps, enemies, allies, spells, animations, and that will probably lead to a Vertical Slice demo of sorts, once we have enough of the key systems in place.

The Game

What's up with the name of the game?
I don't have a name yet! Nekoforce is just my co-dev preying on my love of catgirls (he knows me well) when he created the project folder. It's a fine name while we're in dev, but I'll have to figure a real name someday.

So, what's special about my Shining Force Project to separate it from all the others?
  • Well, unlike many other projects, I'm not going for pixel art / retro grahpics -- I don't have a talent for it. I don't really know how to do 3d either, so instead I will draw regular 2D art and try and get it to work.
  • I'm also not going for tile-base map design -- I feel that with today's computers, it's not really helpful. Instead I draw a picture which is the map's visuals, and in combat mode, I apply a logical grid behind it. I'm still not clear on the art direction for the map itself, in my current prototype I use a map of the 2nd battle of SF2 that was drawn in Crayon pretty much. Cute, but probably not what I'm going to end up doing for the real product.
  • I'm planning to have multiple endings, based on player actions. My current design is to observe the player's behaviour in combat and determine the outcome of the story based on that. Similar to how, I think, Ogre Battle does it. I'm not clear yet if I want the player to be able to determine the branching through dialogue choice or actions in the exploration segment, or if it should be solely from how you fight.

What's making my project a "Shining Force Project"?
  • As far as battle and systems go, I am planning to follow the SF formula as closely as I can -- movement range, spell, damage rules, size of the force, promotions, secret promotions
  • I plan to keep the staple cute anime portraits with blinking eyes and animated mouth when they talk.
  • Secret characters~
  • Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Werewolves, Dragons, Harpies, Robots and all sorts of weird humanoids/monsters in the team!

Things I'm still on the fence about
  • Should the main character be a silent protagonist or not.
  • Should the storyline between battles be told in a VN style (I really enjoyed Utawarerumono on the PS4), or the more classic SF style. (I know the exploration / mini cutscene of SF are really part of the game's DNA)

The Cast so Far
Amreen, the main protagonist
Image

Amreen is the daughter of the Minister of the trading town of Kuzumur, a crossroad between many kingdoms.
She was born with tiny nonfunctional angel wings, which lead many of the other children around her age to tease and not associate with her. Despite this, she remains cheerful and well-behaved.

Leela
Image

Leela is bit of a tomboy and very protective of her "little sister" Amreen (who is actually taller than her). Her explosive temper tends to get her in trouble.

Surion
Image

An archer, part of a small detachment of warriors sent to help defend Kuzumur by the neighboring Elven nation. He is wise, skilled with the bow, and has many times helped Leela and Amreen avoid AND get out of trouble.

Screenshots

Straight off the build~
Image

Image

I need to take time to draw a map of my own and redraw that CombatScape background, since both of those were pretty much lifted from SF2...


Anyways, that's all for now!

*Edit 1: Added Surion in the cast.
... enjoy!

-Doh
... enjoy!

-Doh
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Chaoswizard98 » Mon Dec 11 2017 3:42pm

Hey there, welcome to the fanwork section.

To answer your questions

Should the main character be a silent protagonist or not.

The shining heroes weren't actually mute, their lines were mainly cut because we as the player know what they'd say in that situation. For me personally, I don't have a problem with a non-silent hero, and in my game, Jason does have actual dialogue mainly because my game has more focus on getting to know the characters than the SF games had. There are some people however that do prefer a silent hero. Again, personally, I don't think it makes or breaks the project lol.

Should the storyline between battles be told in a VN style or the more classic SF style.

You could probably do either so long as you don't completely remove town exploration. Personally I enjoy the SF style of cutscenes more since you actually have characters moving around as opposed to static images, however, you can pull more detail out of using a much larger image as opposed to a small 24x24 character sprite XD. I actually thought about using a combination of both for my game, (The VN parts being similar to that of Phantasy Star 4), but I scrapped the idea as I lack the art skill required to draw such things. My idea was to essentially animate as much as I could in the style of SF, and use the larger static images for things that needed that extra level of detail.

Anyways, I like your art style and I cant wait to see how this project develops. I'll be looking forward to playing your first demo! :thumbsup:
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Tue Dec 12 2017 3:34am

Thanks for the welcome~

I'm thinking of doing like you did in Syro, and give Amreen a voice. The problem I have is that this voice should technically change depending on your choices during gameplay / the narrative. Having a silent hero is easier to support the multiple paths / endings the way I am currently thinking of. At this point, it becomes a question of scope. It can be a question for Future Me (TM), however, as my main focus currently is to get the battle system to a playable state.

At the very least, though, I want to add voice to each character in during combat, and those would apply to the protagonist as well as the rest of the crew.

The Phantasy Star 4 comic-book style story intrigues me. I don't think I have the talent for that, either, but it's certainly a mix between the VN style and the RPG formula that would work.

My biggest fear with the SF-style story mini-cutscenes is that my chibi characters don't seem like they would be very easy to animate to deliver a story. I'll certainly have to think a long while for how I want to tell the story between battles.

The "Real" first demo will probably be once I have a battle playable from start to finish. For that, my guestimate bill-of-materials on art/design side is...

Need 4 different characters (Ideally one of each: Caster, Melee, Ranged). Currently sitting at 3/4. (A character means portrait -- 4 frames, chibi sprite -- 6 frames, battle sprites -- 7 frames for basic idle/parry/attack)
Need 2 spell effects (Probably a heal, and a nuke). Add 4 make that ~8 extra animation frames for the spell-casting character(s).
Amreen is a weird character, so she gets _19_ frames of animation for casting.
Need at least 2 different enemy types (Probably something like: Melee, Ranged. Similar to heroes, it's 4 frames of portraits, 6 frames for chibis, and 7 frames for combat). Currently sitting at 1/2 done.
Need 3 Backgrounds (0/3). Probably for Forest, Hills and Plains.
Need 3 ground tiles (for the heroes) 0/3. Forest, Hills and Plains once again.
Need 1 properly designed battle map (0/1)

Currently my programmer is working on the targeting system for attacks/spells. Calling the CombatScape and firing the animation event should be fairly straightforward (My current build has debug keys to fire those instead). Damage calculation should also be easy enough.

So all in all, I'm expecting the first real demo should be playable around end of January?

Edit #1:
-Currently, Surion and Leela are pretty much "done" as in they have a first pass of their attack, idle, parry animation, their portraits and in-game sprite.
-Amreen still needs lots of love -- she has the basic 7 frames (idle, parry, attack) still only flat-shaded. She also needs 19 more frames for casting.

Casting, in my mind, currently has 4 stage:
- Precasting (2 frames), which is an animation that blends from idle to go in a first casting stance.
- Precast Loop (2 frames), which is the first casting stance. This technically holds only for a short time, usually until the player reads the first battle message (Amreen begins casting "BLA"!)
- Casting (2~5 frames), which is a blend from the pre-cast loop to the proper Casting Loop.
- Casting Loop (2 frames), which is a looping idle that holds as long as the effect is being applied to targets.

Amreen needs 19 frames, because she is able to cast from 2 different schools of magic, and they are different enough that I think it warrants both VFX and animation to distinguish them.

With some luck, I will be done animating at least one of those two before the weekend!
Last edited by Doh042 on Sat Dec 16 2017 6:44pm, edited 1 time in total.
... enjoy!

-Doh
... enjoy!

-Doh
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Chaoswizard98 » Tue Dec 12 2017 3:46am

My biggest fear with the SF-style story mini-cutscenes is that my chibi characters don't seem like they would be very easy to animate to deliver a story.

SF solves that issue by adding a few simple animations to the overworld sprites. Head Nod, Head Shake, Shudder, Spell Cast, and Jump (Also used for surprised expressions). It's a very subtle thing, but it surprisingly adds a lot to those overworld cutscenes.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Tue Dec 12 2017 3:58am

Chaoswizard98 wrote:SF solves that issue by adding a few simple animations to the overworld sprites. Head Nod, Head Shake, Shudder, Spell Cast, and Jump (Also used for surprised expressions). It's a very subtle thing, but it surprisingly adds a lot to those overworld cutscenes.

I suppose if I limit the characters who are allowed to do these things, it wouldn't be so bad!

But if I have to add frames for Agree, Disagree, Shudder, Cast and Jump on each of the ~40 characters, I may just go ahead and keel over dead right away ;P

Could they actually do all these things in all 3(4) directions in SF2? Or did the Shudder (That's when they interact with objects and such, right?) always facing the same direction?

I'll have to examine my copy of SF2 some more...!
... enjoy!

-Doh
... enjoy!

-Doh
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Tyadran » Tue Dec 12 2017 4:42am

Generally shudders were in any direction if I recall, where they just took a square of pixels around the head region and shook it back and forth. Generally I recall seeing it facing up or down, though.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Chaoswizard98 » Tue Dec 12 2017 4:51am

All animations were done via moving a portion of the sprite. In other words, separate the head from the body and just move the head for the duration of the animation. No extra art needed.

Shudder is slightly different as you just stretch it down a tad for a few frames before moving it back up.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Tue Dec 12 2017 5:07am

I'm not sure I can easily chop my characters and animate the head part independently... especially when they have that much hair!

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-Doh
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Tyadran » Tue Dec 12 2017 5:13am

Ah, you didn't make them on separate layers when you made the sprites?

EDIT:
So what I'd think is that you make your sprites three layers, like this, that can be animated by hand beforehand or swapped out with a single-piece sprite on the fly when you need a shudder.
Image
The hair back would obviously be behind the body, and the head in front. When you wanted a shudder you would just shake the hair and face layers. It doesn't seem like it would be too difficult? But your sprites have to be made with this in mind. :thumbsup:
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Tue Dec 12 2017 5:42am

They're in layers, but not the type that's useful here -- they're split by color for easy re-colouring, not for easy manipulation of front/middle/back parts.

I certainly could cut them all up for animating that way, but the game currently displays them as a single sprite, rather than collection of parts. I'll think about doing it this way, though. Nothing is ever set in stone!
... enjoy!

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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Tyadran » Tue Dec 12 2017 5:48am

You could do what I do, maybe. For my game I have a character with a run animation that needs to change (to allow an attack animation while he's running) so even though I usually display him as one sprite, when running that sprite is just the legs and it generates two helper sprites for the torso and scarf.
Image

So in general I would just make a split version of the standing still animations, you wouldn't need to do it for all of them.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Tor_Heyerdal » Fri Dec 15 2017 11:22pm

In my project, I'm going about it the tedious way. lol. I have to hand-animate all the frames of everything, and I have a WHOLE lot more than 50-ish characters. I have 150 characters in my project, and that's only the ones that have face portraits. Some sprites that don't have face portraits still need to be able to animate too. But the attitude I have about is "just do it. It needs doing." So I try not to think about the tedium, and I just git 'er done. Also, this looks really cool so far. I'll definitely play the hell out of it when it comes out.

PS: What are you using to host these images? 'Cause I've always used Photobucket, but that doesn't work anymore without a paid account... I need something new (and free) on which to host my IMG links.

PPS: I think it's pretty cool that we now have two Canadian fan developers on here. ^^
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Chaoswizard98 » Fri Dec 15 2017 11:35pm

Imgur is what I use nowadays.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Sat Dec 16 2017 1:06am

Cutscenes/sprites/narrative will be on the menu soon, because I think I'm getting close to having the fight system playable enough for the first demo. I need to add some spells, and maybe one healing herb per character, but the later isn't very important for now.

I do want to add some kind of combat bark system, but that could be something added later. I still think I have to consider this subject over for a bit.

I made a pretty cool attack animation for Leela, and I'm wondering if I should go SF1 or SF2-route for Surion's ranged attacks (i.e. you start alone in the Combat Sequence, and you shoot at the edge of the screen, then pan out to the target -- the SF2 way, or simply show both on screen and shoot like a melee attacker would -- the SF1 way)

For the images above, I used Deviantart for one of them, and a random website I own ( nivicare.com ) for the majority of the rest --- I probably should use Imgur, instead.

Canadian devs yay! -- my colleague is actually from Regina, if I didn't say already.

Edit #2: Flat-coloured rough of one of Amreen's casting animation
Image

Edit #3: And since I mentioned it...
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Tyadran » Mon Dec 18 2017 8:02am

I use a random Google Sites website I have to host my images, with a page tucked away just for them.
I'm partial to SF1 ranged attacks, but I always have an SF1 bias.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Mon Dec 18 2017 3:53pm

Tyadran wrote:I'm partial to SF1 ranged attacks, but I always have an SF1 bias.

I think I agree with you on that one. I'm a bit torn though, I think I like both takes on it.

The Good:
  • They are internally indistinguishable from melee attacks (Except the rules to allow only counter attack if the defender has range to strike back -- that part is already coded.)
  • Not really any need to animated the projectile since it doesn't travel enough distance.
  • Consistent with how spells visually work too, where the attacker and defender show up in the Sequence straight from the start (despite the possible distance between them)
The Bad:
  • It's not as directly obvious to a neophyte why you will never / can't counter that attack, as the characters appear in melee range, just like they would in a normal attack. (A flaw that spells share...)

And what may end up making me integrate the feature despite all this:
  • It forces me to integrate the "background" transition effect that will be needed for AoE spells later, anyway.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Chaoswizard98 » Wed Dec 20 2017 6:53pm

It forces me to integrate the "background" transition effect that will be needed for AoE spells later, anyway.

Or for when someone later requests you to allow for normal attack AoE. Hurray for explosive arrows. :thumbsup:
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Wed Dec 20 2017 8:47pm

Ugh. I don't want to think of the nightmare of AoE attacks on archery. What do you do for counter attacks?

Enemy archer shoots at Surion for 5 damage.
Enemy's attack also hits Amreen for 4 damage!
Surion counter attacks, hit enemy archer with explosive arrow for 8 damage!
Surion's counter attack also hit enemy centaur with explosive arrow for 6 damage!
Surion's counter attack also hit enemy fighter with explosive arrow for 4 damage!
Enemy archer attacks again and shoots at Surion for 5 damage.
Enemy's attack also hits Amreen for 4 damage!
Surion counter attacks, hit enemy archer with explosive arrow for 8 damage!
Surion's counter attack also hit enemy centaur with explosive arrow for 6 damage!
Surion's counter attack also hit enemy fighter with explosive arrow for 4 damage!

===

Realistically speaking, if I wanted to do an explosive arrow with aoe (and not give archer a rain-of-arrow spell), I'd just make it so that the basic of that character acts AS a spell, and use the archer's attack animation as the casting animation.

That would mean no Land Effect, no criticals, no double-attacks, no counterattacks, and being subject to magic/elemental resistance. May also accidentally kill archers' bonus damage against flyers.

The problem I have is that a simple weapon changing the rules of a unit so much feels "too much" to me. I'm fine if promoting an Elven Archer into a Sniper vs Cannonneer does that; Sniper is anti-air, double-attacking crazy, and Cannonneer becomes a pseudo-mage instead.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Chaoswizard98 » Wed Dec 20 2017 10:57pm

For mine, only the initial target can counter the attack. Should the counter have aoe, it's simply ignored which makes things way simpler.

In shining force 2, if a burst rock is killed, it explodes for a bolt size aoe. If the resulting explosion kills another burst rock, then that one too explodes. The biggest chain I managed to get was 3. That was one long cutscene lol.
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Re: Project Nekoforce (Temporary name)

Postby Doh042 » Thu Dec 21 2017 3:49am

Hmm. I'm just going to drop some random thoughts here. I will likely be preaching to the choir, as we are on a forum of fans of SF, but voicing what's on my mind often helps me figure my own brain out.

I just showed a demo to a friend of mine, who knows of Fire Emblem, but isn't familiar with Shining Force. Just like when people know ForbidenSeriesTactics, but not Shining Force, I feel like I am forced to educate / justify the design decisions of Shining Force. As a Game Designer, I hold our series in very high esteem, and it is pretty much the epitome of K.I.S.S. (Keep it simply stupid).

Shining Force follows almost to the letter the laws of preventing Analysis Paralysis ( from the following article: http://www.leagueofgamemakers.com/desig ... is-part-2/ )
1) Break Down Turns into Steps or Phases (Yes)
2) Impose Limits (Very hard limits everywhere. 4 spells. 4 items including weapon/ring. 1 attack command. 12 units)
3) Reduce Turn Length (move > attack > end of turn. As basic as can get)
4) Use Hidden Information or Randomness (crit, parry, weapon procs, dodge, random level ups... yeah, they got this)
5) Reduce Opportunity Cost
6) Escalate Gradually (4 units in first fight, 12 after a while. Map size, and number of enemies also scale)
7) Prevent Cataclysmic Change (Other than the hero getting killed, no character death is cataclysmic in a fight)
8) Eliminate or Reduce Calculation (I never bothered trying to predict the damage I would do in an attack. Often it was "I know vaguely how much I did last time I fought one of those")
9) Minimize Visual Information (SF does a lot of this one)
10) Use Simultaneous Actions (Vandal Hearts 2 tried, and it was a bad idea! But board games have lot of success with that to prevent analysis paralysis)

To me, what Shining Force does is interesting -- I like that enemy range isn't shown on the "B" button when you go in snoop mode. It's only shown during their turn. But cleverly, most fights start you far enough from enemies that you'll get a round or two of movement before it becomes a "risk", and you should have a vague idea of their movement capabilities by then.

Shining Force doesn't tell you the turn order. You can't know "oh, killing this guy will cut his round that he's about to have, so I can save my mage", because you never know exactly WHEN he's going to act. You have to take actions that are either disregarding the enemy's actions (focus on your actions, not the enemy), or you have to always expect the worst. (focus on the enemy's next actions).

Shining Force doesn't "TELL" you outright that some units move faster in the woods or hills than others. But you clearly notice it when you play those maps / with those units.

You also don't know that some units dodge / parry / double-attack more often than others until you have lots of experience playing with them.

Heck, I have played all three SF game many many times, and never really knew about the "Land Effect" meaning. Or that archers actually deal extra damage to flyers. Or that flyers don't benefit from Land Effect. Or that enemies had actual typed elemental resistance.

I just played. Had a grand time, won the game every time, and was perfectly satisfied.

===

This is the same feeling that I want to create with my game. I don't want to make it easier on the perfectionist or OCD players to act with perfect/magical knowledge of initiative order and enemy range. I want them to get a feel for the battles and enemies, and make judgement calls on what they EXPECT will happen, not what they KNOW will happen.

In a time where most strategy games are adding complexities, systems and provide the players with the exact hit, critical and parry chances on screen prior to picking "attack", and the expected damage outcome... I wonder if a game like Shining Force will essentially fare badly. "REAL" strategy enthusiasts would complain that the game obfuscates too much information. Non-strategy games would probably ignore the game, because they don't tend to enjoy the other ones -- they're so loaded with information and numbers and stats, they might feel like it's as fun as doing your taxes.

What I worry here is that Strategy Games may have been catering specifically TO the people who like to over-analyze things, and that because of that, marketing a strategy game to OTHER people becomes difficult, and the core strategy players won't like your product either, because it's clearly not complex or catering to their needs.

So currently, my thinking is that I would have to "market" heavily the fact that this particular strategy game is either for children ("Look how bright, colorful, cheerful and simple it is! This is like the Fischer Price version of X-Com!"), or that it is trying to be a throwback to the old days of obfuscated design, where you need a strategy guide or wiki to know all the secret workings of the game (a very Japanese way of doing thing. But I'm fine with that.)

Anyway, will keep all of that in mind. I wasn't expecting to be thinking about THOSE aspects of the game for a while still, but now it's floating around in my head.

But if someone was interviewing me today about this? I'd probably tell them that anyone who would look at SF or my game and say "You need to tell me more information so that I can plan my moves better.", my answer to them would probably be along the lines of "This isn't that type of game." or simply use Bruce Lee's quote : "Don't think. Feel."

====

Huh. Sleeping over it gave me an idea that I really like.

I was already planning on having a character that is a strategist/historian/scholar type. I am currently thinking that if he's in your party, your "snoop" tool allows you to see enemy movement range.

And another character was planned to be an Oracle who can foresee the future. Having her around would add the Turn Order list on screen, and allow the "Snoop" tool to show you where each enemy unit will go (in theory) on their next turn -- it wouldn't be 100% accurate, as changing the situation would change their decisions, but it could be a useful tool to use, and very "RP" since it would only be a spontaneous "if it was this unit's turn right now, this is LIKELY what it would do."

This way, you can, if you want, sacrifice 2 of your 12 units for non-fightery types that provide better tactical information. Leveling them up could be harder than normal units, if, for example, they are weaker than the majority. So keeping them around would be a decision, but one that allows everyone to have their fun, essentially...
... enjoy!

-Doh
... enjoy!

-Doh
Doh042

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