Indiedev

Devlog #5: MASSIVE Prototype 3.0 update

Ok, ok, we’ll try not to put MASSIVE for each of our updates. But it’s true though, it is a very very big update, focusing around a very important feature: Combat. It will be available on http://powerlevelstudios.com at the end of September, or early October. In the meantime, you can try 2.0!

Here’s a summary of what you can expect from 3.0:

Vault-ful of improvements for you, reapers of souls: much improved combat, complete with AOE attacks, buffs and debuffs, and Unreap!; arm yourself with new unique legendary loot and soul gear, and reap new exciting monsters’ soul!

Warning

This is very much still a prototype. It still has LOTS of bugs.

Changes

Here’s a full list of changes:

Combat:

  • Grid system for better tactical combat and Area Of Effect (AOE) attacks

  • AOE: Double, Line, Column, Cross and All

  • Unreap feature: summon monsters in combat to fight alongside you

  • Controls instructions

  • Much improved UI

  • Soul Reaper talks

  • Shows all types of damage separately

  • Buff/Debuff indicator

  • Random visual objects in combat background

  • Even faster combat flow

  • Fixed many combat-related bugs

  • Fixed Burning Drake attacking 3 times instead of one

Loot:

5 new, game changing, legendary loot:

  • Carapace Shield: Slotted Soul Actions get applied to all targets;

  • Worm Threaded Necklace: Slotted Soul gets unreaped twice (summon twins!);

  • Paw Pendant: Life on Kill now also gets applied on Hit;

  • Red Rose: Slot Soul Actions cost 0 spirit; and

  • Beef Up Belt: Slot Soul levels up twice faster.

5 new Soul Gear:

  • Sharpener (Stabby Squirrel, Bubbly Fish, Feline Clawer): Life On Kill On Hit, Life on Kill;

  • Holy Shield (Saint Squirrel, Shield Turtle): Life regen per turn, Life on Combat End, Armor);

  • Disgusting Mask (Burning Worm, Octoblader): Burn on Turn, Return Damage Percent;

  • Spirit Sucker (Bubbly Fish, Saint Squirrel, Cursed Snake): Spirit Bonus, Spirit Steal, Spirit on Hit, Spirit on Combat End; and

  • Slow Death (Octoblader, Burning Worm, Cursed Snake): Burn on Turn, Poison on Turn, Slow Chance.

3 new monsters:

  • Shield Turtle (Heavily protected turtle boosting its own defenses (buff))

Burning Worm  (Dangerous worm returning physical damage dealt)

Burning Worm (Dangerous worm returning physical damage dealt)

Feline Clawer  (Deadly assassin dealing LINE AOE damage)

Feline Clawer (Deadly assassin dealing LINE AOE damage)

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Other:

  • Game balance tweaks (still a lot more to do here)

What’s next?

Prototype 4.0 will mostly be about the intro of the game. This means better story, a tutorial and a main screen. But also UI improvements.

What do you think?

Are you looking forward to the new changes? 3.0 will come out in the coming weeks on our website. We’ll leave 2.0 and 1.0 up so you can compare versions.

We think 3.0 is a major step in the right direction. Do you agree or disagree?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-5-massive-prototype-3-0-update-e6b89f710c84

Devlog #2: End of July 2017 Updates

July has been a pretty solid month for Power Level Studios. After all the hard work from the past few months to build a solid prototype, we were ready to share Soul Reaper with the world, and the response has been pretty good.

The Square Enix Campaign

https://collective.square-enix.com/projects/377/soul-reaper/

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It has been going strong with 80% Like. It started out at 94% for the first few days but dropped almost consistently the days after. The reason is likely because we heavily promoted it in our channels first, which were already favorable to the project. And then came the new people who were not familiar with Soul Reaper yet. It is a niche game after all.

New features!

Announced during our first devlog on Medium, we added exploration tools and a minimap. More info here.

New promotion channels

We added GameJoltLikeMindedd and Itch.io to our promotion channels. Previously, we only had IndieDB. We try to be active daily on all these channels.

Lots and lots of Stories on Medium

We try to be creative, original and helpful. We wrote 8 posts (9 including this one) this month on Medium. Here they are:

Story #1: The life of a nomadic indie (console) game developer

BIG NEWS: Square Enix is featuring Soul Reaper on their Collective platform!!!

Opinion: Are procedurally generated levels all that great?

To Kickstarter or not to Kickstarter in 2017

Tried and True: 5 tips on building a game prototype

Opinion: How important is the story in RPGs?

Dev Update #1: A little more like Zelda

Tried and True: 5 tips on working with a fully remote team

We filmed a Kickstarter video

We’re not putting the video together yet, but we assembled the team, rented professional-quality equipment and did our best to film a good Kickstarter video. See our previous post on why we are not doing a Kickstarter yet.

What’s coming up in August?

The main things happening in August will be wrapping Square Enix Collective up, designing new monsters for the lava section of the vault and applying for grants!

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/devlog-2-end-of-july-2017-updates-9486dee46b8a

Opinion: How important is the story in RPGs?

A lot of my personal favourite RPGs of all times have seriously good gameplay, but is sometimes lacking an enticing story to go along with it, or doesn’t provide a movie-quality plot. I sunk a lot of time playing Nippon Ichi games like Disgaea or Phantom Brave. For me, these games are incredibly fun. I very much enjoy the min/maxing aspect of it, trying to perfect your stats in every way. These games, however, don’t have the most incredible stories.

Gameplay matters more?

When we started designing Soul Reaper, we focused on gameplay first. Re-creating similar moments like when moving around in The Legend of Zelda, fighting monsters in Final Fantasy, getting epic loot in Diablo, collecting souls in Castlevania Aria/Dawn of Sorrow and catching pokemons in Pokemon.

Because of that, the story was always some kind of afterthought, which we realize might be a mistake now. Heck, just looking at our early gameplay teaser, you can see that story is almost absent:

People want an enticing backstory. At least. We do have a backstory, but it doesn’t reveal much of the plot at all. See the story section of our Square Enix Collective campaign: https://collective.square-enix.com/projects/377/soul-reaper/.

[…]the story was always some kind of afterthought, which we realize might be a mistake now.

Serious vs Not Serious Story?

Are you serious?

Are you serious?

Soul Reaper’s current story is inspired by Nippon Ichi games and iconic Marvel Characters like Deadpool. Needless to say, it’s not the most serious of stories. Like it’s inspirations, it has a more serious backstory, but is delivered in a comedic way.

Like it’s inspirations, it has a more serious backstory, but is delivered in a comedic way.

We decided on that tone because it seemed that most stories featuring the grim reaper depict him as an evil being set for destruction. We thought showing “him” in a different light might be refreshing.

We still stand by that, however we’re second-guessing if it has its place in an RPG like Soul Reaper. Looking back at most of the highly acclaimed RPGs (like here for example: http://ca.ign.com/lists/top-100-rpg), not many of them are comedic.

We want your opinion!

What’s more important in a good RPG? Story? Gameplay? Visuals? Something else?

What makes a good RPG story? The characters? The setting? The tone? The dialogues? The backstory? Something else?

Serious vs not serious?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/opinion-how-important-is-the-story-in-rpgs-e0f2c2a68db0

Tried and True: 5 tips on building a game prototype

Try our official prototype here: http://powerlevelstudios.com

Back in October 2016, we received a grant to build a prototype of our future game: Soul Reaper. The idea was that we would do rapid prototyping to see what features work and which ones don’t. Building a prototype really is about validating that the concept you have in mind is fun. It’s hard for us to define what went right and what went wrong in the process, but we figured we could share some tips based on our experience.

Building a prototype really is about validating that the concept you have in mind is fun.

Tip #1: More is less and less is more

We have tons of features planned for Soul Reaper. Drawing inspirations from some of the best features from Zelda 1, Final Fantasy VI and X, Castlevania Aria/Dawn of Sorrow, Diablo and Pokemon, it was hard for us to choose which features should and should not make it in the prototype.

Whatever the case, I’d say always aim for a full-game loop. In Soul Reaper’s case: Prepare Outside Vault -> Go into vault -> Go down floors -> Enter combat -> Die/Leave Vault -> Repeat.

I’d say always aim for a full-game loop.

Chances are you can create a full-game loop with only 3–5 core features. For Soul Reaper, we opted for Soul Collection, Turn-based combat, Diablo-style loot system and Zelda-style exploration. Everything else is just candy. Of course, the game won’t be as fun without the candy, but it should at least be “fun enough”. If it doesn’t pass the “fun enough” test, change to the core features in imperative.

Tip #2: Show a glimpse of the future

Soul Reaper will have about 100 monsters with 100 unique abilities. That’s not even counting the different “Soul Combos”. There’s no way we could build all that content in the prototype. How do we show players the scope of the game without having built that much content? Simple! In the game, when you go to the Souls menu, you can see a numbered index of all the monsters in the game. “Locked” souls are indicated with a “???”. Players can scroll and see that there will be 100 monsters. We only made 6 for the prototype.

For the exploration, it was always our goal to create “exploration tools”. Things like bombs or a grappling hook, like in Zelda: A Link to the Past. It will be an integral part of the final game, but we decided it wouldn’t make it in the prototype, due to lack of time, and for simplicity. To show that such a feature will be in the game, we displayed the controls on how to use the tools on the GUI, but greyed it out to show that it’s not available yet.

To show that [exploration tools]will be in the game, we displayed the controls on how to use the tools on the GUI, but greyed it out to show that it’s not available yet.

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This is important because it lets players use their imagination to visualize what the final game may be like, without playing it. The idea is to get them excited for when the game will be closer to release.

Tip #3: Rapid Prototyping

We built the current version of Soul Reaper’s prototype in about 6 months. That’s a long time! We were lucky enough to have received funds to create it. Most will have to do that faster, and that’s okay. In fact, we probably had our first full-game loop in about 1 week!

For 6 months, we implemented different versions of our core features. Each feature took about 1 day to build. But we re-did many versions of that feature and gathered feedback on how fun it was.

Example feature: Combat. We experimented with different implementations:

Turn-based, MP based (FF IV, FF V)Turn-based, Cooldown based (Wartunes)Turn-based, MP and Cooldown basedActive Turn-based (Chrono Trigger, FF VI)Quick-time turn-based (FF X)On-map turn-based combat (Dragon Fin Soup)Active (Zelda)etc.

There’s no way we could have accomplished all that without fast prototyping, and truthfully, the game wouldn’t be as fun if we tried only one and said: “That’s it!”.

It’s not that we’re incredible programmers, it’s just that we made the decision to not care about code quality for the prototype (though it’s not half-bad either), knowing full well that it’s likely that we’re going to scrap everything anyway. And if not, at least we will have a better understanding on how to properly build the feature for production.

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Each feature took about 1 day to build. But we re-did many versions of that feature and gathered feedback on how fun it was.

Tip #4: Use the tools you know

Maybe you want to release your game on consoles and maybe Unity3D is the engine of choice for the game you’re building. But you don’t know C# or Unity. I’d say don’t use Unity3D for the prototype then! It’s much easier and faster to do rapid prototyping using tools you know. If people like your prototype, then it’s worth it to start to learn the best possible tools to build the game.

Tools are rarely what kills a prototype, execution is. We could have built Soul Reaper’s prototype on RPG Maker, Game Maker, Unreal, Cocos2D, Construct 2, etc. We chose Unity3D because it’s the one we had the most recent development experience with.

If people like your prototype, then it’s worth it to start to learn the best possible tools to build the game.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to show it off

Now, for me personally, this is the hardest one. It’s hard to show an uncompleted product for the world to see. People may not see your vision and the prototype will certainly not show the full vision of the project, so they’ll judge on what they see. And brutally sometimes. Embrace it no matter how hard it is. Any feedback is valuable to get to the end product, especially the “bad” one. You can’t make a great product if people don’t honestly say your game is shit. You need to know your game is shit so you can fix it in the final product. Better get that feedback while the game is not released!

You can’t make a great product if people don’t honestly say your game is shit.

What do you think?

Have you built a prototype and shared it with the world before? What are some of your top tips?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/tried-and-true-5-tips-on-building-a-game-prototype-ad0273b12697

To Kickstarter or not to Kickstarter in 2017

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As previously announced, Soul Reaper will be featured on Square Enix Collective on July 17th (https://collective.square-enix.com/). The next step for us after that was to immediately start a Kickstarter campaign and hope for the best. We recently decided against it; we won’t be doing a Kickstarter just yet. The timing is not right.

We recently decided against it; we won’t be doing a Kickstarter just yet.

We’ve analyzed many different video game campaigns from this year, last year and even before. As everyone knows, the trend is not very positive, mostly because of high profile failures: successful campaign; bad, or unreleased product. People are scared of backing projects nowadays, with reason. And especially for studios like ours where we haven’t released a single game yet. It hardly matters how much experience we have in the industry; as a team, we have not proven ourselves yet. And that’s kind off the key here: no one cares about us, because no one knows us. We lack the required social influence to have a successful campaign.

And that’s kind off the key here: no one cares about us, because no one knows us. We lack the required social influence to have a successful campaign.

Is that a bad thing that we’re postponing our Kickstarter campaign until we do reach said “social influence”? Well, no. Not for us at least. We’re aiming to finish the development of the game in Q4 2018. It’s like in 1 year and 5 months if we’re aiming for December! That was our realization recently: we’re not in a hurry. At all. Most recent successes on Kickstarter are games that are close to completion, like Sundered for example (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thunderlotus/sundered-a-horrifying-fight-for-survival-and-sanit). It’s much easier to convince players if they can playtest a well polished pre-alpha version and see that no matter if they back or not, the game will still be done. For backers, it’s great since they get the game for cheaper, and in a few weeks or months only.

So yeah, we’re postponing because of these two things:

  1. We don’t currently have a big enough social influence

  2. We’re not close enough to the release of the game

So what are you doing then?

Nothing really. At least, nothing to replace Kickstarter.

In the next year or so, we’ll do everything in our power to increase our social influence: be active on social media, forums, groups, local events, not-so-local events, etc. If anyone has suggestions, please let us know.

But also: spend time on developing the game. Everyone tells us how much work it is to run a Kickstarter campaign. We believe them. Time we spend running the campaign is time we don’t spend building the game.

Is that a good decision? What do you think?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/to-kickstarter-or-not-to-kickstarter-in-2017-3060be435eef

BIG NEWS: Square Enix is featuring Soul Reaper on their Collective platform!!!

The feature will be from July 17th to August 14th onhttps://collective.square-enix.com/

Help me support myself and my team by voting “yes” on July 17th. It takes 2 minutes, costs nothing and helps for the success of the game afterwards!

What does that mean?

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Everything to me personally. I’ve been working on and off on Soul Reaper for about 2 years during my spare time (if you consider 20–30 hours per week spare time!). When Soul Reaper was awarded a grant from the Ontario Media Development Corporation, I was able to hire very talented artists to make the project way more visually appealing, but there wasn’t enough money to pay myself.

If you read my previous post, you know I recently quit my job and started focusing on Soul Reaper full-time. Bold move considering I’m not making ANY money anymore. But I knew there was something to this project and was willing to give it my all for people, who like me, just can’t wait to have another great old-school style role-playing game to play, but on newer generations of consoles.

What’s the big deal?

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Getting featured by Square Enix Collective means TONS of exposure (like millions of potential players!). This is very valuable helping for our Kickstarter campaign after if Soul Reaper is popular enough on their platform.

Just to put this in perspective: 100s of studios around the world send their pitch every month to get one of the coveted 4 spots per month! Which means we’re at least in their top 4% for this month. It’s a great honour and humbling experience; some of the games they feature are quite incredible and the teams behind them are usually larger than Power Level Studios. Being judged on the same level as them is as scary as it is exciting. I knew we were into something from day 1, but seeing my favourite company in the world agree with me is just an incredible feeling!

How important is it?

Our current optimal projected plan at Power Level Studios is as follows:

  1. Get featured by Square Enix Collective — Check

  2. Have a successful Kickstarter campaign

  3. Obtain a second round of funding through Ontario Media Development Corporation for going into production (http://www.omdc.on.ca/interactive/Interactive_Digital_Media_Fund/Production_and_Concept_Definition.htm)

  4. Obtain the CMF Commercial Projects fund (http://www.cmf-fmc.ca/programs-deadlines/programs/commercial-projects-pilot-program)

All these steps are required for us to finally make a living making this incredible game. If step 2 fails, then there’s no step 3 or 4.

Hitting all 4 points means we make an incredible game for gamers all around the world. And we get paid to do it!

How can I help?

Glad you asked!

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In order for Soul Reaper to be popular on Square Enix Collective, I need people to vote “yes” that they would support the game. To be worth their effort to support us, we’re aiming to have over 85% supportIT’S INCREDIBLY AMBITIOUS! Less than 35% of the projects reach that, even though they look incredible!

Voting will start on July 17th https://collective.square-enix.com/. You will need an account to vote. You can create one using Facebook or by using email or Steam. It’s a 2 minute process to vote and it’s free. IT WOULD MEAN THE WORLD TO ME AND MY TEAM if you could take these 2 minutes to make the project successful.

As a bonus, we’ll send you a free “thank you” wallpaper that you can put on your desktop or on your cellphone!

Follow Power Level Studios

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/big-news-square-enix-is-featuring-soul-reaper-on-their-collective-platform-fb2d70a24b79

Story #1: The life of a nomadic indie (console) game developer

TL;DR I left a well-paid job in Toronto to roam the world while making an ambitious console game: Soul Reaper. It’s dumb but I would not have it any other way.

On June 1st (2017), I left my well-paid software engineering job in Toronto to focus on two of my biggest passions: traveling and building video games. “Dumb move” some might say and they would mostly be right.

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I don’t consider myself to be a good employee. It’s not that I don’t work well, it’s just that when you’re an entrepreneur at heart, you have the desire to create something bigger than yourself for a group of people you care about, and when you work for someone else, it’s hard to make that happen. For me, creating a super ambitious game for gamers like me who miss the way games were made back in the SNES and Playstation days is what I care about, and it’s definitely bigger than myself!

Now, I did say it was a dumb move. After all, until I release a game, I’m not getting paid. And I even pay people to do art for the game. Thankfully I was awarded a grant by the Ontario Media Development Corporation to work on Soul Reaper. But that money is not nearly enough and doesn’t pay for myself. Dumb indeed!

Traveling to save money

Good Nomad Cities

Good Nomad Cities

Now, that’s where traveling comes in play. For a lot of people, traveling is considered an expensive hobby. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Traveling is expensive when you’re moving a lot, pay for visas and expect comfort. The key is to find cheap visa-free countries that are comfortable enough and have great wifi. I traveled around the world from June 2015 to May 2016 and experienced amazing places to work from. Thailand (Chiang Mai and Bangkok) is very high on the list of great places. Cambodia (Siem Reap), Croatia (Zagreb) and Spain are also places I’m strongly considering in the near future. I’m sure other digital nomads have found other great spots as well. In Chiang Mai, I can live for $406 CAD / month with everything included including great wifi. And I’m sure there’s cheaper places. And there’s an awesome community of digital nomads there and is very comfortable. In Toronto, my rent was $1850 CAD, not counting utilities like electricity and internet. Oh, and I can eat for $2 CAD for an incredible dinner (it would be over $15 CAD in Canada)! So money-wise, being a nomad is pretty much the only way I can imagine being able to pull it off with limited budget.

Building for consoles while on the go

Soul Reaper is aimed to be released on consoles during Q4 2018. How do I heck am I building a console game with limited luggage space? It also doesn’t help that I’m an hobbyist photographer with camera equipment!

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Nintendo to the rescue!

In October 2016, Nintendo unveiled their next generation of consoles and they called it the Nintendo Switch. It was released on March 3rd, 2017. It changed everything… for the most part! As you may know, the Nintendo Switch is a hybrid console/portable gaming system. You can hook it to a HDTV or play on the go like you would with a Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita. And it works incredibly well! It’s as if it was built for me; as a gamer and developer. Plus they support the engine Soul Reaper is built on: Unity3D. Needless to say, I purchased a Switch and carry it with me everywhere. I’m currently carrying the dock and play on TV when my Airbnbs has one, but otherwise I play in my hands. And for those who haven’t held or seen one, it’s really thin and light! It takes up about 20% of one compartment of my bag. It would take less than 10% if I didn’t carry the dock and cables.

PS4 development

Soul Reaper was first designed to be released on a Playstation console (PS4). I don’t want to change that. I’m carrying with me my PS4 controller and only playtest the game using it. Carrying a PS4 is obviously out of the question since it’s too heavy and would take pretty much 100% of my luggage space! But it’s easy enough to test the game at 1080p from the computer or by hooking a monitor up. I just can’t test the PS-only features, of which there are none yet. We’ll see what I’ll do then.

Follow Power Level Studios

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/story-1-the-life-of-a-nomadic-indie-console-game-developer-5ffd373f68a8