Derange #4: The End (of development)

September 28 is a special day in the realm of survival horror for two reasons. First of all, it’s when the first half of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis goes down. Second, it’s when development on Derange finally wrapsThat’s right – as of today, I’m finishing up the game’s endings and then Derange is done. The maps are all done, the events are programmed, dialogue and memos are written and gameplay systems are tested and working. Aside from a final round of bug testing, balancing and a bit more polish, Derange‘s development is complete.

DerangeExplore4

 

So, all that’s left is to set a release date, right? Well, it’s not that simple. You see, we’re at a crossroads here at Dark Gaia Studios. Our last survival horror title, Mythos: The Beginning, was published by Degica, who also handled the Legionwood series. Degica is a great publisher, and the care and professionalism they’ve put into our games is nothing short of amazing. But if the sales numbers for Mythos have proven anything, it’s that horror games aren’t their forte; they’ve carved out a niche as a publisher of indie RPGs, and that’s the audience they cater to.

On the other hand, we could try self-publishing Derange, just like with the Steam re-releases of One Night and One Night 2. However, that’s not really a viable option, either. The One Night games have managed to do just okay, and that’s mainly on the basis of being older games with fans who recognised them from way back. To make self-publishing work, especially for a brand new IP like Derange, a developer needs to put all their force into marketing. They need to be online 24/7 promoting their game and doing their best to beat the algorithms. It’s just too exhausting for a tiny studio (ie. just me) to manage.

DerangeForest1

And so, we’ve made the decision to pitch Derange to a new publisher, someone with a proven track record of publishing horror games. We’ve got a couple of candidates in mind, and we’ll be reaching out to them shortly. The problem is, even if everything goes smoothly, finding a good publisher isn’t a quick and easy process. It’s probably going to take several months, at the very least, almost certainly pushing Derange‘s release into next year. We know you’ve all been waiting far too long for Derange already, but please continue being patient. We want this game to do well enough to justify a sequel down the line. We want to bring you a whole series of old school survival horror games.

In the meantime, you can try the Derange demo on itch.io.

Posted in Games

Patronize Me?

Let me ask you guys something: how do you want to support my games?

I’m at a crossroads, and I’m not sure how to proceed. I’m going to get right to the point: I’m setting up a Patreon, and depending on how it goes, how I approach developing games will change forever.

Once upon a time, I gave away my games for free. Those of you who were around when I dropped the first Legionwood or the One Night trilogy probably remember a quite different Dark Gaia Studios. For one, I was just Dark Gaia back then, as there was no “studio” to manage. I was doing what I enjoyed for the fun of it, creating content at my own pace for loyal fans who supported me however they could. I didn’t have to deal with the pressures of being a professional game developer – there were no publishers to court, no worries about how a certain genre was selling, no quotas or deadlines to meet.

When I finished university in 2014, I found myself stranded in the real world with no means of supporting myself, so I released my first commercial game to try and turn my passion into something that would sustain itself. These days, my games sell decently well on Steam, but selling a product means I have to treat what I do like a business. Now, with a few years of professional game development behind me, I want to return to my roots. I want to tell stories, not sell things – I want to give my games away again, but I need your help.

And so, I’ve decided to run a little experiment. I’ve set up a Patreon page, and here’s what I have in mind: if I can generate just enough income each month to make the time I spend on game development worthwhile, I will release my games for free once more. That means no more commercial releases – if you guys support me directly, you’ll have unlimited access to everything I make, forever, for free. I won’t have to worry about running a business. I’ll be able to just relax and make games.

Let’s see how it goes. If you’d like to check it out, the Patreon page is here. Any support you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

Posted in Games

Still Alive

Hey, I’m still here!

If you’re a regular visitor to Dark Gaia Studios (or you stalk my Twitter and Facebook), you’ve no doubt noticed there’s been a huge lack of updates lately concerning Derange or any other projects I’m working on. I didn’t feel okay with simply letting this site and blog languish as if I’d just vanished off the face of the Earth without letting my fans know what was going on, so this blog post is just to let you guys know everything is fine.

Yes, I’m still alive. Yes, I’m still working on my games. I’m just taking a little break for the time being and working at a much more leisurely pace. My last major release, Heroes of Legionwood, was a massive undertaking that required nearly 3 years to see to completion. An important part of my development cycle is giving myself time to rest and recharge after huge projects. Usually, this results in me putting out smaller, less ambitious titles in between my major RPG projects (like Mythos in between Legionwood 2 and Heroes or, for those of you who’ve been around for a long time, the One Night games in between new chapters of the first Legionwood).

title

These smaller titles tend to be require less time to make and I recharge my creative batteries by working on them at a more relaxed pace. Originally, Derange was intended to be one of these smaller side projects, but it’s since evolved into something much bigger. As it turns out, I’ve jumped right from the tail end of Heroes of Legionwood into another complex and ambitious project, without anything to help slow things down in between.

So, I’m working slowly, but I haven’t neglected my game development ambitions entirely. I’m currently getting back into the swing of things by updating my older One Night games to a modern standard with the Ultimate Edition releases (the first two of which are already available on Steam and Itch.io). I’m also fleshing out an idea for a small scale non-fantasy RPG that I’ve yet to reveal, saving time by re-purposing code and mechanics from Heroes of Legionwood.

I like to consider game development my job, but it’s important to remember that I the reason I started doing it in the first place was because I enjoy it. And when the act of creating something is no longer enjoyable, the end product becomes soulless and generic. Each project I embark upon is supposed to be a labor of love. When you play my games, you can tell I care about them, and that’s why you like them. Thank you for understanding.

Posted in Games

Derange #3: The Hivemind

Hello once again, horror fans. In my previous update, I described some of the ways that Derange seeks to emulate the traditional tropes of 90s survival horror. Following in the footsteps of Resident Evil and Silent Hill isn’t all there is to Derange, however. If all I’ve managed to do in the final product is retread what’s already come before, then what’s the point in playing it when you could just stick to the classics? In this update, I’m going to introduce just one of the unique new features in Derange that aims to do things a little differently: the Hivemind System.

Sounds cool, you say, but what is it? Well, to put it simply, the Hivemind System is a mechanic that allows Derange‘s enemies to react to and learn from your actions as a player. It’s kind of like the AI Director in Left 4 Dead, but with more of an emphasis on keeping the game tense and catching you off guard. As you play Derange, the monsters you encounter in the mansion will “remember” your movements and communicate with each other, eventually manifesting new behaviors and abilities in direct response to your actions. The goal, of course, is to make the enemies unpredictable. In other traditional survival horror games, most enemies are static and are easy to deal with once you’ve memorized their movement patterns and what they’re capable of. In Derange, however, the monsters will “evolve” to adapt to how you’re playing, ensuring they’ll always be a threat.

Hivemind2

The Hivemind changes enemy properties on the fly.

So, how does it work? At its core, the Hivemind System “watches” what actions you’re performing in the game and adjusts the enemies accordingly. Let’s say you’re playing cautiously, carefully evading enemies, avoiding fights and stockpiling your healing items. In this case, the Hivemind System will enter “offense mode”, making all of the enemies faster and more aggressive so they have a better chance of catching you. The longer you continue to play cautiously, the more aggressive the enemies will become – they’ll learn to open doors, will use more effective hunting tactics against you, and their attacks will deal more damage.

Hivemind

Saving often tells the Hivemind you’re playing cautiously.

What if you’re playing a more aggressive game though, killing every enemy you find and dealing with threats in a more pragmatic manner? The Hivemind System will start to play defensive instead, mutating the enemies so they become gradually harder to kill and making them more likely to gang up on you rather than attack one by one. These are just a couple of examples; there are dozens of different variables at play that will affect what the Hivemind System does next. It’s capable of reacting to almost anything you do, and nearly every possible action in the game can cause its “play style” to change. The end result is that hopefully you’ll feel like you’re being hunted by something intelligent and calculating, something doing everything in its power to destroy you.

That’s all for today. Next time, we’ll cover Derange’s dual protagonists and how your choices can affect the game.

Posted in Games

Derange #2: Tools of the Apocalypse

Welcome back to the Derange devblog, horror fans. It’s been quite a while since my last update (organising a wedding and then getting married has a way of eating up my spare time, it seems) but I’m finally back, bearing the latest portent’s from Derange‘s development. Last time, I talked about how Derange aims to translate the old school, Playstation 1 era survival horror experience to RPG Maker. This time, I’m going to elaborate on just how I’ve managed to emulate that experience, and the main features that make Derange subtly different from my previous survival horror games. Without any further delay, let’s get into it!

Inventory Management

On the surface, this is the biggest difference between Derange and my previous games, and the one singular feature which I decided from the very start had to absolutely, without compromise, be present in the game. Unlike in One Night and Mythos: The Beginning, in which you could hoard items to your heart’s content, your character in Derange can only carry 10 items at a time.

29594709_10157621651099466_353132088199116914_n

Weapons, health items, ammunition and key items all take up a single item slot, requiring you to make tactical decisions about what you need to bring with you in any given situation and what you’re willing to leave behind. Surplus items can be stored in a Resident Evil style item box (usually present in save rooms and other strategic locations) and will be available for you to take later, but managing your inventory on a moment to moment basis will be a big part of the game – just like in the classics.

Limited Saves

In One Night and Mythos, you might remember how saving your progress was restricted to save points in specially designated rooms. This prevented the player from saving whenever they wanted, but provided you could make your way back to the save room you could basically save as many times as you liked. Whenever I’ve watched a Let’s Play or walkthrough of the One Night games, it’s been glaringly obvious to me that this system did little to inconvenience or tax the player in any considerable way.

Save

In Derange, you now require Blank Tapes to save your game, in yet another mechanic I’ve blatantly stolen from Resident Evil. Whenever you save, you’ll use up one of these precious items, so you’ll have to think twice about whether you really need to save the game at any given moment. Do you drop a save right now and risk not having a tape when you really need one, or do you press on and risk losing progress? That said, if you do manage to run out of Blank Tapes you won’t entirely be out of luck: you’ll still be prompted to save after major events in the game, such as completing the prologue or defeating a boss. Resident Evil essentially became impossible if you ever ran out of ink ribbons, but you’ll still have a lifeline in Derange.

Less Numbers

One thing I never really liked about the One Night games, but didn’t really have the skill to do any differently, was that it displayed the player’s health as an exact number of hit points (Mythos gets a pass here, since it’s an RPG). It was possible to determine exactly how much damage enemies dealt to you, and how many more hits you could afford to take before dying. You could effectively “min-max” your health and only use healing items when you knew you needed them. In the classic survival horror games, you never knew exactly how much health you had left, and it made the combat so much more tense.

30073061_10157689497089466_4827135468808141972_o

Likewise, Derange doesn’t show you an exact number. Instead, the status screen shows your character’s general condition: Unhurt, Bruised, Injured, Dying or Poisoned. Additionally, outside of the status menu, the screen will slowly fade to black and white as your health ticks down (yes – like a cover shooter, but at least this way you won’t have to constantly open the status screen to check your condition). This gives you a vague idea of how close to death you are, but doesn’t tell you exactly how much more damage you can take. When the status screen says “Dying” and you don’t know for sure whether the enemy around the corner will finish you off, exploration and combat are much scarier.

29872825_10157689497114466_950691271248553016_o

And that’s all I have time to share for today. As you can see, we’ve managed to translate some of the main mechanics of traditional survival horror as closely as we can, while still trying to add a few small modern touches. I don’t often see these features among RPG Maker horror games (or the survival horror genre in general these days) but, being a purist, I feel they add so much more to the atmosphere of the game.

Next time, we’ll cover the Hivemind System, something that makes Derange a unique horror experience.

Posted in Games | Tagged , , ,

Derange #1: A New (Old) Nightmare

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

This is the first in a series of dev blogs about our new upcoming horror game, Derange. This will be an semi-regular series detailing aspects of the game’s development, design choices, notable features and other things I think are pretty cool leading up to release. Like previous dev blog series, such as the one for Mythos: The Beginning I plan for these posts to be relatively in depth, describing how the game plays and how certain features work in pretty exhaustive detail. As such, if you don’t want to be spoiled on the finer points of how Derange plays or some elements of its storyline, you might want to stick to my Facebook or Twitter posts. You have been warned.

29512907_10157625482754466_2218535517413909847_n

 

So, what is Derange, exactly? It’s a retro (ie. Playstation 1 era) style survival horror game inspired by the original Resident Evil and John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse trilogy” of films (that is, The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness). Playing as either college student Jessica Kessler or software engineer Nathan Romero, your mission is to investigate the disappearance of your friend Dr. Edwin Prestor, whose last known correspondence has brought you to a seemingly abandoned New England manor. When you arrive, you find the estate’s inhabitants transformed into creatures that are no longer human, and you’ll have to discover the source of the horror to survive.

If you’re a survival horror fan, you probably know the deal by now: explore the creepy mansion, gather supplies, ammo and keys and solve the odd puzzle while evading monsters that can outnumber and overpower you. It’s a pretty standard setup for your typical late 90s survival horror game, but it’s something that’s never really been translated to the RPG Maker engine. It’s a formula that’s close to my heart and the main goal with Derange is to provide the closest approximation of the genre possible. The objective is to create what essentially feels like a 2D Resident Evil game, complete with all the trappings: scarce ammo, horrifying monsters, inventory management and limited saves (a future devblog will go into detail about how all of these things will work).

Making a worthy successor to the classics of survival horror is something I’ve attempted before with the One Night series and with Mythos: The Beginning, but have never actually pulled off in a way I felt truly captured that experience. In that sense, Derange can also be considered something of a followup to those games. It certainly shares similarities with those games, at least thematically, but my design goals are a little different this time. Where Mythos was an experiment at combining an RPG with survival horror elements, Derange is a straight survival horror game. And where One Night attempted to hearken back to the survival horror games of old but ended up only meeting them halfway (no inventory management, clunky turn based RPG style combat, obviously repurposed stock RPG Maker menu screens etc.), Derange aims to do the concept justice.

29511124_10157626300479466_4915401155883931288_n

Long story short: survival horror has moved on from the 90s, and they just don’t make games like this anymore. Derange is a die-hard fan’s love letter to the genre. I want to make a time capsule representing everything I loved about those games (and, by extension, everything that worked well in my previous attempts at the genre) – something familiar, shaken up a little and repackaged for a new generation.

Next time: how Derange captures the essence of a traditional survival horror game.

Posted in Games

One Night: Ultimate Edition Release Info

They’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Last month, I announced One Night: Ultimate Edition, an overhauled re-release of my very first survival horror game. Since then, we’ve been hard at work updating One Night for a modern release, rewriting every single line of text, recoding the engine from scratch, and implementing some desperately needed quality of life tweaks that, quite simply, were far beyond my technical skills in 2007.

Needless to say, it’s been quite a task, something much larger and much more challenging that what I originally envisioned. Our original plan was to have the game ready by the end of November, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. Taking a game with a codebase as messy, badly optimised and, in some places, as outright broken as the original One Night and updating it to the standards of something I’d release today wasn’t easy. It’s a wonder the original game even worked with all of the clunky systems 16 year old me built into it. Despite all that, we’re finally seeing One Night: Ultimate Edition come together as a playable title.

So then, release info: at this stage, we’re aiming to release the game in early January 2018. This gives us another month to finish polishing the game and to make sure all of the overhauled systems function as intended.

Also, while I originally announced that One Night: Ultimate Edition would retail at a price of 3.99 USD, we’ve since decided to release it as a free to play title after all, maintaining the spirit of the original release. I’d like for One Night: Ultimate Edition to serve as something of an introduction to my horror titles for new audiences – the idea is that if people like it enough, they’ll go on to buy Mythos: The Beginning and other survival horror games in the future. Eventually, we’ll update the other entries in the One Night series for Steam as well, which will thankfully be a much easier undertaking.

Here’s hoping.

Posted in Games | Tagged , ,