Early Dev Notes - Parts I, II & III

Left: Long Gone Days 8 years ago using RPG Maker assets. Right: Long Gone Days today.

Before the development of Long Gone Days started, I decided to keep track of the things I did so I could later share what I learn, hopefully to help other devs. This first part is the introduction, but the following parts include: defining the visual aspects, deciding the engine, the marketing phase, releasing the demo, crowdfunding, some fears/surprises, and the reception.

Part I: Introduction

As a child, I wasn’t too fond of videogames, until I played my first RPGs. The first RPG I played was Threads of Fate, and then some Final Fantasy titles. I remember being in awe at the fact that a game could have a story and cinematics, as well as being playable, and by the time I was a teenager, I was determined I wanted to make something like that.

Threads of Fate (Square Soft)

I had no idea how I could actually make my own game, but I started gathering ideas, creating some characters and designing some levels. Those things were terrible of course, but this is how the first designs of the characters of Long Gone Days came to life.

Evolution of the sprites of Long Gone Days through the years

I started developing the first version of the game (after I found out about RPG Maker), committing a bunch of mistakes, like writing the story as I was finishing a map, or leaving tons of quests that were impossible to complete (because I had forgotten about them). There are a lot of failed attempts of Long Gone Days, and during the last few years I decided I’d research and study a lot before I tried it again.

An early draft of the script.

By the end of 2015, I had gained experience through commercial and personal projects, while also making a couple of games during gamejams. I finally felt like it was the right time to focus on my own game, so I started redefining the story, and as soon as I had saved enough money to work on it fulltime, the development began.

A very outdated screenshot of our Trello board.

The next step was one of the hardest of the whole process.

Part II: Defining the Visual Aspects of the Game

I always knew I wanted to have tall sprites in Long Gone Days, but I also knew working with bigger sprites would slow down the development. The image above was one of the first attempts. As I was working on that concept, I noticed that a small character means I would need to make a lot of small objects to make a room not look empty or repetitive.

I made the character as closer to real proportions as my schedule would allow me. I started with 3 frames walking cycles, but with taller characters, the difference between each frame is more notorious. With their 8 frames walking cycle, things started to look a lot better:

To design UI elements, I usually started by making sketches on paper to get a general idea:

The next part includes information regarding the engine and some of the prototypes in Unity, Game Maker and RPG Maker.

Part III: Choosing an Engine

After defining the basic visual aspects of the game, I could finally start the development of the demo, but which engine would be better for it?

Messing around with the camera in Unity (December 2015)

While I had years of experience with RPG Maker, my first choice was Unity, because I would be able to port to a wider variety of platforms.

Since I was working with my life savings (which would only last for 8~10 months), it was important to have a working prototype/demo soon. As weeks passed by, I noticed I’d have to remove a lot of features if I wanted to release a demo in 4 months, and I had to take one of the hardest decisions of the development:

  • If I used Unity, I wouldn’t have enough time to implement a somewhat decent battle system, and the menu would lack a couple of basic functions. All in all, the demo would be pretty much a visual novel, with only dialogues and exploration.
  • If I switched to RPG Maker, I could have all of the basic features I need, but I would only be able to port the demo to Windows and Mac. There’s also the backslash that RPG Maker games get, and I was afraid it could lower my reach (Spoiler: As long as they enjoy the game, most players don’t care about the engine).
  • I could build the prototype on Game Maker, which would allow me to port the demo to Linux, but just like Unity, it would take more time to build a prototype with Game Maker than it would if I used RPG Maker.

All things considered, I decided to switch to RPG Maker MV, and in a week I already had something playable (even though it looked awful):

The battle system with tons of placeholders.

From then on, I’d only have to take care of creating the assets and implementing the events, while customizing the already existent features.

After I had a couple of screenshots to show, I thought it was time to share what I had been doing with other devs, and see if there was any interest in a non-fantasy modern-day RPG.

The next part will be posted in the upcoming days, and it focuses on building an audience.

This article was originally posted in the devlog of Long Gone Days. Camila Gormaz is the co-founder of BURA, an independent game studio from Santiago, Chile.