Let the Moonlight Give You Wings Progress Report #1

A while back I announced a project called Let the Moonlight Give You Wings. It’s an RPG Maker game I’m making, along with a tie-in novel. This post is a quick update on my progress, and I hope to post one of these from time to time.

I had the whole project on the backburner while I finished other things, but now I’d say Moonlight is on my middleburner.

The Game

My major focus right now is on the main locations of the game. I’m putting together the barebones dungeons, mostly geography, a few key events. Later I’ll go in and spice up all of the locations with clutter, things to do, events, more intimate designs, etc. For now, I’m mostly making the hallways and floors, so to speak.

I’m also working on some of the more complicated main storyline events. These are time-consuming; having a system that randomizes conversations means there’s a lot going on in the background. Playing the game, you might press the action button on a signpost and see a character say something, but what’s really going on is the game is determining which characters are in your party, randomly picking one to speak, and then often randomly picking someone to reply or add onto what they’ve said, and often times there’s a third or fourth nest of the same. The more party members you have, the more complex the conversations can get. Since all of the playable characters are required at some point, this means scripting conversations for all of them, even though in one playthrough the player will likely only see one of the responses I’ve written.

It’s complicated and it takes a lot of time writing and testing, but it’s worth it. I want this world and this story to be dynamic, not a static replication on each playthrough or button press. I want the characters to banter, antagonize, agree, argue, and play with each other, so I’m trying to work in as many in-character, believable outcomes as I can.

I’ve been bouncing back and forth on whether to implement a dynamic time system. Originally, I wanted time to progress automatically and kick the player out of the “dream world” after an in-game day. This idea didn’t last long. Besides requiring a lot of always-running processes that might cause lag, it put a huge restriction on me from a writing standpoint. It’s no good if a character says “We have X amount of time to do this!” and then the player can take an in-game year to get it done. I also don’t have much for players to do in the waking world, and I decided it would be boring if half of the game is spent waiting for the clock to strike midnight again.

What I have in place now is a dynamic clock, but kicking the player back into the waking world isn’t based on time. Instead it’s based on progression through the main story. I didn’t like this at first, but the idea grew on me, and so far it’s working best with what I have.

Weather likely also be dynamic. It might snow in cold areas, it might rain in others. I have a basic system in place for this, but it’s a little too random at the moment (it’s odd to walk through a rainstorm, go inside a house for two seconds, then come back out to a bright and cheery day). It’s another thing I’ll probably tweak to my liking later in development.

I’ve opted for mostly custom graphics when it comes to characters and their equipment, but currently I’m also heavily relying on the built-in stuff (RTP). I’d like to rely less on this. I’m not a good artist, however, and I reach my limits pretty quickly. That said, what I hope to eventually do is go through and tweak everything. All of the existing tilesets can receive minor overhauls, little things to keep development simple for me, but make the game look and feel less vanilla to players. I want this world to be mine, so I’m going to tweak tilesets and build my own graphics along the way to get it further and further from the default graphics.

I originally wanted this post to include screenshots, but I decided against it for now.  I’ve already made quite a few battlers, character faces (tons of these), in-game outfits, custom tiles etc. but at the moment I’d say the game is about 75% vanilla assets, and I don’t want to present the game in that light. I’ve posted a few screenshots already, mostly to prove I’ve actually done anything, and I’ll probably post some in my next progress report, regardless of how custom the graphics are, but for now, I’m leaving them out.

My biggest hurdle right now is that the game has three major story arcs to it, and while I have two of them mostly planned out, the third eludes me. I know the ending I’m working toward, and right now I can get from point A to point M, but I haven’t figured out how it gets to point Z from there. I have a few ideas I’m kicking around, and I don’t need that problem solved until I’m finished with this first round of locations, so I have plenty of time to get this sorted out.

The Book

I haven’t started yet, for a number of reasons. I want this experience to unfold as a video game, so the book automatically comes second, for me. That said, it’s not like I’ve done nothing, story-wise. All of the writing I’m putting into this project so far is going into the game, but much of it can also be used in-book, especially in regards to dialogue. I imagine this’ll be one of the fastest books for me to write, maybe a NaNoWriMo project, if I happen to be working on it next November or, more hopefully, in the summer.

Timeframe

I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m making decent progress. As I said, I’m working on the major locations and their major events. Everything after that is like seasoning the main course, and it’ll likely be small, easy things, but a lot of them. I’m able to devote more of my free time to the project, and when I do sit down and get to it, I tend to knock out a large chunk of what’s left. I don’t even want to attempt guessing at how much time I have left to spend or when the game might be finished. Some days it feels like I’m just getting started, others it feels like I’m in the final stretch. I think it’ll sneak up on me, one afternoon I’ll just realize I’m finished. But that’s a while from now, and hopefully my future updates will be a lot more exciting than this one.

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nowPlaying: Xenoblade Chronicles

You might remember how, for a few months, I was a staff writer for a Nintendo fan site. The site is gone now and the admin vanished, but my love for writing, video games, and writing about video games is stronger than ever, so I’m happy to continue doing it on my blog. I’ve also decided to extend my reviews/analyses outside of the gaming world (with music and films in mind), but for now, here’s the first in my nowPlaying series: Xenoblade Chronicles, developed by Monolith Soft, for the Nintendo Wii.

All images taken from the official site, not owned by me.

When you ask people about the greatest video games ever made, there are a few titles that’ll come up on almost every list: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Half-Life 2. Resident Evil 4. In a perfect world, Xenoblade Chronicles would be one of them. It’s near the top of mine.

Released for the Wii in 2010, this one took a while to leave Japan. It didn’t reach America for nearly two years, coming out shortly before the Wii’s successor, the Wii U. The game received a limited printing, so a copy is going to cost you anywhere between $60 and $80, but it’s worth it.

The word “epic” is overused these days, but it fits this game perfectly. The story opens with two titans fighting each other in an otherwise empty ocean. They strike fatal blows at the same time, but their lifeless bodies remain standing, and from these spring forth all living things.

You play as Shulk, a young boy who grew up on one of the titan’s knees. Did I mention the game is epic? The whole world consists of the bodies of the titans. At any point you can look into the sky and see their arms, their heads, you can look across the ocean and see most of the other titan—all but the part that extends beyond the clouds.

An example of the view from one of the legs, complete with the torso of the titan in the distance.
An example of the view from one of the legs, complete with the torso of the titan in the distance, and its extended sword hovering above.

This game is huge. Everything about it is massive: Open-world areas in the same vein as Bethesda’s latest games, seamless combat (nearly all of the game’s loading screens are just there to load cinemas, only a few places require a loading screen transition), character customization; everything you’d expect from an action RPG, but bigger. My final play time, for example, was 75 hours. There were still dozens of side quests I hadn’t done, and I could have sunk another few hours in to level up and have an easier time with the final bosses (because a game this big can’t have just one).

The graphics are good, for the Wii. You can find screenshots, but they don’t do it much justice. The wind blowing through the grass, the people and creatures going about their lives, the ever-looming titans, you have to see it for yourself. It’s a Wii game, so by today’s standards it’s dated, but even as such it looks good.

Colony 6, where the main characters grew up. From this viewpoint, you can travel all the way into the town and along its streets without loading screens.
Colony 6, where the main characters grew up. From this viewpoint, you can travel all the way into the town and along its streets without loading screens.

 

The characters you face are, for the most part, lovable. Off the top of my head, only one enemy character comes to mind who I could describe as one-dimensional, and she’s not a major character. Everyone else is a well-acted, well-designed being, complete with their own motives and reasons, and this adds to one of the game’s running themes: Existentialism.

Your run-of-the-mill game can be pared down to “Find the bad guy and kill him”. You’ll be doing a lot of finding in this game, and you’ll be doing your fair share of killing, but you won’t want to. Instead of faceless “baddies” that only stand in your path, the game presents your adversaries as people who happen to be on the other side of the coin. Shulk, the main character, begins as a naive kid with a desire for vengeance, but transforms into a strong, noble man, one who tries to reason before ever lifting his sword, and who understands his enemies. I have a feeling the game’s director, Tetsuya Takahashi, might have been influenced by the works of Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin: Before Shulk defeats his enemies, he has to know and love them, and he feels every loss along his path.

The game’s story goes on to tackle the idea of what it means to be part of a Universe in which you aren’t the only inhabitant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game do this before. There are often moments of depth, often strong characters that you feel for, but Xenoblade takes it to a new level. As big as the game is, it must also be described as “deep”.

The tree in the background is just a texture from this distance, but you will eventually reach the top of it in-game.
The tree in the background is just a texture from this distance, but you will eventually reach the top of it in-game.

Some of the plot points are trite, but most are unpredictable. The game threw a lot of curveballs. In most cases I had no idea what was coming until the second it happened. It does suffer from some overly-descriptive and repetitive dialogue (sometimes the characters just plain talk too much), but it’s nothing you won’t find in the average video game.

The gameplay itself is fun, but a lot of people seem to have trouble with the battle system. Unlike most games, you won’t be mashing the A button to obliterate everything in your path. Characters (there are several in your party, and you get 3 on-screen at a time and may play as any of them) auto-attack. Your job as the player is to choose where they go. Some attacks are more powerful from behind, some from the side, etc. You also have special attacks called “Arts” that you choose from, giving combat a layer of strategy comparable to that of a turn-based RPG, but the battles won’t wait for you, and timing is everything.

Another word I might use to describe the game is “exhausting”. The last ten hours or so started to wear me down. I did get a little tired of running around fighting random creatures and fetching items for NPCs. The game’s design is relentless, every new place you find is as large and as full of things to explore and do as the last, but by the time I reached the last handful of areas, I just wanted to skip them and go straight into the main quests. I never really wanted to stop playing, but if there had been another ten hours of main story, I might have.

The upsides far outweigh the downsides, and in the end I’m so glad to have played through this game. It’s one of the most original and unique stories I’ve ever encountered, especially in the world of video games.

In January 2013, Nintendo revealed a trailer for a game by the same company, Monolith Soft, that is very heavily implied to be a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles. I can’t wait to see what’s in store this time around. The possibilities are limitless, and I’m looking forward to what will surely be one of the richest gaming experiences offered this generation.