Brave Earth Q&A: Answers!

Got a pretty good turnout for questions. Hope this satisfies some of you!

From VioletLinked
How many areas / weapons will be usable in the game?
Can you upgrade and downgrade said weapons?
How many characters will you get to play as?

There should be about a dozen unique stages. Some stages are shared between character and often have paths that are unique to different characters. As for ‘weapons’ and ‘upgrades’ remember, this is not a metroidvania. That said, Naomi has 4 special attacks and can power up one of those attacks at a time. Including air variations, Naomi can do a dozen different moves with her special attack button, though only 5 and a time (only powered up specials have air variants). Sinlen, can hold 1 of 5 spells at a time and each of those spells has a special attack. Trevor has 4 different dodge techniques, but can only incrementally power up his sword, much like a Belmont powers up his whip.

As for the amount of characters? For now I’ll just say 3. I might add extra bonus characters later, but these are the three main characters with their own unique paths and storyline significance.


From Fortinbras
I dunno if this has been covered elsewhere, but since you’re best known for IWBTG, I’m curious what the difficulty level will be.

It has, but no harm in saying it again. I’d say at this point, Brave Earth is harder than Castlevania 3, but not by a lot. To experienced Castlevania fans, Brave Earth might actually be slightly easier. There will also be difficulty sets to help people find their ideal level of challenge.


From Grognor
I know I’ve asked you this before, but I liked your answer so much that I want to share it with everyone! (Also, I forgot your answer)

Will religion be “the real deal” in the Brave Earth series, like it is in most fantasy games?

I forgot too so I hope this answer is still good…

It depends on what you mean by “the real deal”. There is magic, there is undead and there are monsters. There are events that definitely give more credence to the idea of “There might be a creator”. So despite the obviousness of magic and souls and the like, unlike most high fantasy, religion is still an act of faith. Same with philosophical ideas like skepticism. Just because there is magic in the world does not mean we should assume all claims are true, just like, in real life, just because we have amazing science doesn’t mean we can assume all technologies people claimed they invented are real.

These themes will be relatively minor in prologue but will hopefully be an important part of Tower in the Sky if that ever gets made. BE:P will probably have a bit more to say about gender roles, though the NES nature of the game somewhat limits how in depth that’ll be.


From Poki#3
Do you think the self imposed limitations of having it be as close to an NES game as possible limit your creativity, or make you find more creative ways to do things?

Well first, let me be honest: I cheat. A lot. I cheat with resolution (the game is a bit wider than it should be, since NES games are natively ‘square’, and the exact resolution is chose more with resolution multiplication in mind more than accuracy). I cheat with the palette (I edit a number of traditional NES colors to get a few colors that wouldn’t normally exist), I cheat with sprite limits and thusly I can even cheat with colors per character. So I’m not hyper accurate, but I like to be aware of the rules I break and have a reason why. As such the limitation is actually very liberating. I have a lot of aesthetic tools to draw upon and I can cheat them when they are occasionally too strict.

My general rule has been “Would I believe this was an NES game if I played it as a kid?”. I cheat less than that, but if I couldn’t believe it, I know it’s flat out wrong.


From Leylite
It seems like one of the tenets of the game design here is to make it possible for people to go through the entire game without taking damage, and for people to be able to speedrun the game.

So with that in mind, are you going to include your best times in the readme? Just for comparison’s sake, of course.

The game SHOULD track your best times in game. I still have to figure out how to work this across difficulties and stuff like that, but it should pretty much be assuredly a feature. I’m actually somewhat concerned about the game’s fitness for speedrunning and how optimizable it is. But I guess we’ll see. I’ve had some people say that they think the game is very much suited for speedrunning.


From Stew
Will you intentionally leave in a glitch, and try to make the player play around it? (think, shield dash SOTN)

I haven’t found a glitch worth leaving in yet. There was only one that ever came up that was ever an option (think: Zombie Hover) and it was a bit too goofy and unusable to leave in.


From Logo
Well I’m mostly curious about what type of system of hitboxes have you built and how do you manage them since you have a pretty interesting set of moves. Are you using rectangular collisions boxes? Are the timing of the hitboxes run off animation frames or are they timed (ie how do you sync that all up and ensure the moves come out the same each time)?

Okay so each character has 3 sets collision data. One is terrain collision. This is usually a rectangle. Heck, it’s a rectangle even when you’re crouching so you don’t get stuck understuff. That one’s easy. Then you have the attack/hurt boxes, which are a set of image masks that fit over the pre-exisitng sprites. I do them as ‘boxes’ but they’re technically images. Every logic cycle, the attack and hurt boxes set them selves to the same animation and animation frame as the character’s base animation and the player’s position. This keeps everything perfectly in sync pretty easily!


From Yagamoth
Too late for questions? Whatever, I’ll ask anyway:
– What is the focus of your game? Please try answering this question before you read on, I don’t intend to put any words into your mouth.

How scary! I’ll try my best!

I would say the focus of BE:P is in it’s level design and enemy design. Relatively slow, careful encounters, rather than quick, rapid action. I want the player’s actions to have weight. Sinlen subverts this a bit, and Trevor embodies this and Naomi sits in the middle.

I’ve seen a lot of platformers lately. Often they revolve around a single gimmick (for better or for worse). But ignoring the gimmick, the platforming itself is often a bit sketchy and unappealing to play by itself – only the gimmick tries to make the game worthwhile and stand out from the others.
For me personally, I prefer platformers the other way around – the platforming itself should be appealing and make the player want to play the game, just because the controls are THAT good. Super Meat Boy did an excellent job at this. Even IWBTG has (in my opinion) excellent controls – precise and on point with no unnecessary distortion.
If you add a ‘generic’ gimmick on top of that (Say, charge shots and a grappling hook), that’s absolutely fine if it only adds to the gameplay. If a not-so-generic gimmick interferes with the already solid mechanics: For me to accept this as a valuable addition to the game, It has to be incredibly well thought-out, well implemented and interesting enough (=worthwhile). Even a not-so-good generic gimmick can already be harmful for the game if it’s poorly implemented. I’ll probably earn some hate for this, but for example in “They Bleed Pixels” the combat mechanics are nowhere near as good as they should be in contrast to the platforming.

In short, for me a good platformer stands and falls with its controls. How elaborate are BEs controls?

The BE:P controls are probably a tad more elaborate than they should be for the NES premise, but I’d still say it’s relatively straight forward. I think more importantly, you could play Brave Earth without using the special button, especially with Naomi. I think the game is better with the special button (which is why it still exists), but I think it’s important that it isn’t a crutch. Much like how subweapons aren’t a ‘crutch’ of Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania. They exist as a spice. I think the two most important elements are in a good spot — jumping and attacking. I’m particularly proud of the jump, which has the design advantages that come with an old Castlevania games, but an amount of controllability that makes it not feel dated. I’ll have to wait for people to play more to see if I’m right.

The grappling hook in IWBTG is kinda a funny example but I think highlights part of the problem with a lot of gimmick games. They choose the gimmick because it seems neat, not because it suits any design purpose. This can be fine if you build around the gimmick well, but those types of games are a bigger risk. If the gimmick doesn’t pan out, you’re fucked.

People have asked me if future chapters of IWBTG:G will have different gimmicks and they’re always surprised when I say no. The grapple arm was chosen to solve problems I felt existed in making an IWBTG sequel. The precision of IWBTG’s controls meant it was hard to craft new challenges without looking like a cramped, spike ridden fangame. Knowing that I wanted a smooth scrolling screen, a way to open up the game would be nice. Atop while IWBTG is precise, there is very little nuance to the Kid’s controls. So adding a mechanic with inherent nuance would allow me to open up the game without fundementally changing the Kid’s basic controls. The grapple arm fit perfectly and is a mechanic I inherently love. A little off topic but worth talking about.


From Googleshng
I vaguely recall mention of the different characters having different paths through the game. Is the idea that everyone just gets a full on unique game (with heavy resource recycling)? Is it going to be a multiple paths through each level accessed by unique abilities (a la MM6’s jetpack access ladders)? A weird hybrid sort of deal, where people make their way through the same levels, but there’s different enemy placement, and/or the occasional alternate/extra level crammed in for certain characters?

You can think of it as ‘everyone gets a full unique game’ but it all sort of comes together in a more complicated way then that. For example, you unlock Sinlen at level 3 and Sinlen’s path starts at a difficulty curb fitting to that. Also the alternative characters tend to have shorter paths than Naomi’s (which is about 8 levels depending on how I want to count them). Some levels have different paths (Level 3 has Naomi and Sinlen’s path on an alternating sinewave type thing), some are the same levels, but with different abilities, or different times on the stories itmeline. So yeah, it’s a weird hybrid. Hopefully it’ll be cool in practice. Due to my fetishization of level designs and living world, I want it to feel like characters doing their own thing in the same world instead of on their own disjointed levels.

Also, same question for bosses. If it’s pretty much just, “this is level 8, this is the boss of level 8″ people are always cool with it, but for some reason, “this is level 8a, it’s different from level 8b but has a the same boss at the end” that’s somehow psychologically dissatisfying (while changing ONLY bosses, that flies just fine, it’s weird).

There won’t be any shared bosses, at least not in a way that doesn’t make sense. It would not only be dissatisfying, but it would also mess up some of the chronology of the game.

Going all 8-bit retro often pushes people into tossing in limited lives (sometimes even with limited continues). What’s your stance with this on kicking people back to the start of the level/start of the game as punishment for dying too much?

Default game setting will have lives with infinite continues. In fact, once a level is beat, it’s unlocked and you can resume from there at any time. So you might have to restart a stage, but never the game. Also through an option you can turn on the ability to resume from checkpoints after game-overing. I want to encourage people to play in the ‘old school’ style, but they don’t have to.

Kinda related- Difficulty settings. I seem to recall you planning to include them, but how much thought are you putting into them? Just tweaking damage/HP? Altering enemy placement? Changing up attack patterns? Going all Mega Man 10 and including those shame inducing big obvious bumpers in platforming bits? Maybe without being so passive-aggressive about it visually (i.e. just make the pit smaller, don’t throw in big obvious safety bumper sprite)?

Pretty much everything. Health adjustments, some placement adjustments and for certain enemies, AI changes (this will mostly effect the Very Hard difficulty). Easy platforming (and the associated bumpers) are an option that can be toggles individually.

Mind tossing out an animated gif of that skeletal dragon meandering about? That thing warms my cold black sprite loving heart so damn much.

Oh what you mean this?


From Big Ari
s there any truth to the rumor that all of the storytelling will be done through emoji, and gifs of corgis?

That sounds like me and King are making a true IWBTG/Owata crossover!

I guess if I’m posting, I should probably ask a serious question. Are you planning any optional side content like the secret items in iwbtg?

There will be secrets. There’s a whole ‘hub’ map filled with little things. The hub setup is sorta an interactive “menu” you for you to change characters and choose levels (or even try characters on paths they’re not supposed to go on). Chronologically, it exists AFTER the events of the game and talking to some characters on it can give you some insight on some of the things that went on in the game. None of this is required, but for the people who like this stuff, they can dig around and uncover a number of Easter Eggs.

There will also be secrets hidden in the actual stages too. Of course I can’t say too much. :)

In Response to EpicNameBro’s “Future of the Souls Series” Video

The video can be seen here. EpicNameBro (also known as Marcus, which I’ll use from here on out because it works better in sentences!), a staple of the Souls community, talks about what changes should be made to the series in future installments that we have to assume are coming. He makes many astute points and it’s hard to peg anything he says as flat out wrong or bad. So this will be more of an… addition to that discussion. Some of this might be redundant with my previous writing on the Souls games, but whatever.

I mostly will be talking about the multiplayer aspect, much like Marcus was but I just want to note some stuff on story…

Storytelling

Marcus and I are mostly in agreement on this, but I really do think the Soul’s game need to put a LITTLE bit more forward to the player. The game get’s too many complaints about being hollow and storyless for this to stay. It kills me every time I hear it. I’d say the Soul’s game need…. like, “10%” more story. I don’t know what 10% actually means in StoryTellingUnits, but I think it invokes the right idea. A substantial but still minor push. I’d like to see more things that are on item descriptions be things that NPCs say offhandedly. I don’t want there to be any pre-boss-fight monologues, but I would like if NPCs added a bit more to your knowledge of whats going on. Just enough to give some sense of propulsion. I want the vagueness and mystery to remain, I just want some more clues to be put in plain sight to tell the player. I agree that cutscenes is not how the Souls games tell stories, but I don’t think item descriptions are a particularly good way to do it either when that represents such a large percentage of the information in the game. Ultimately what I want is for more people to be able to notice and enjoy what is there. I doubt, under that context, Marcus would even disagree but it is somewhat contrary to wait he said in his video.

The Gordian Knot of PvP

Marcus probably caught a lot of flak for referring to the multiplayer as Garbage and I don’t much disagree with him. That said, I thought a lot of his solutions missed essential and fundamental problems. It’s also a problem that changing one system almost kinda breaks the game. Many knobs need to be turned in unison to progress the Souls series along, making this a tough topic to theorize about.

The first thing in the video that made me want to comment was his thoughts on the Bottomless Box glitch. He stated that From is clearly okay with Gankers and has to be up on stuff like that and the dragonhead glitch if that’s the case. Technically that’s correct, but that is an unrealistic expectation. You can not make perfect software with any sort of confidence that it won’t break. Atop this, is tacit approval of over-leveled griefing really something worth preserving?

You cannot ever be sure that stuff like the Bottomless Box glitch or the Dragon Head glitch won’t happen. So all you can do is design your game so that if they do happen, their damage is limited. Non-scaling weapons are a pox upon the game. For a character at level 1 to 10 to do as much damage as a 120 vit-gouge build is absurd and it is madness that PVP match making is balanced round level when gear makes up the majority of a character’s strength. If gear properly scaled or had certain requirements along certain upgrade paths, then you could effectively limit how overpowered a low level character could be. This means that a skilled player who got a character through the game at a low level would be able to troll low level players better than another player, but that it wouldn’t be like being practically invaded by a level 120 character. Sure, their health and endurance is a lot less, but when the best weapon you could hope to have is the Drake Sword, the difference is almost invisible to all but the most skilled players.

AR, like defense, should scale with level. By doing that, an elemental build and caster builds could have decent weapons according to their level, but would not be unstoppable godmonsters at level 1. This also means people invading or being summoned can be stronger enough than the host for things to be meaningful, but not so overpowered that they trivialize the experience. Atop this we also got to assume that the invading player already has the skill advantage anyways.

If I were to be more radical, I’d say the next Souls game perhaps should not even have levels. Exact stat configurations in Dark Souls are not particularly interesting and are mostly focused on what equipment you want to use. Being able to switch your build on the fly via equipment could lead to equipment with various types of synergy bonuses (A Thief’s armor could improve backstab damage and be synergistic with light and stabbing weapons while a big set of armor might give synergy bonuses to large weapons). The only thing that makes me not like this approach is aesthetic reasons. I almost feel the same as Marcus about wanting to dress up to look cool. I want armor choices to be meaningful, but not so complex that I have to forgo a nice looking combination because not wearing an ugly mask is just not being competitive. You could do some things with specialty armor and weapon upgrades too (and thusly you can basically ‘change characters’ by changing equipment sets) but that is approaching a level of gaminess that might not fit right in Dark Souls. Personally I always felt rubbed the wrong way by characters who’s strength came primarily from their equipment too, but given that this ALREADY is true in Dark Souls I could perhaps let it slide.

Fortunately this stuff can be changed without fundamentally breaking the system, but lets talk about netplay. Marcus talks a lot about LAN support for the game. Regardless of the validity of that idea, I want everyone to think about something. If the game was played without any lag, how good would parries be? If you answer anything besides “Totally game destroying”, you’re fooling your self. The attack speed in Dark Souls is such that, without lag, a high level player would be able to parry most moves in the game on reaction. The competitive answer to this would be to speed attacks up, or remove parries. Speeding up attacks removes a lot of the personality from the game and removing parries removes a very cool PvE feature. You can’t make parries slower either, because then you make them even WORSE for PvE and they’re already on the borderline of “something a player might never use because they never figured out how to”. The needs of PvE, vs PvP, plus the knot of weird bugs and exploits that hold PvP together lead to a strange game that is hard to change without re-envisioning it. Lag also allows stuff like Pivot Backstabs to work and between that and glitches like Dead Angles, you’re able to overcome shields. Improved netplay (which I think is technically achievable AS IS while still introducing the same issues as Lan play — just to a lesser extent) changes backstabs even more for the worse, making their punishing capabilities better while making the positional, lag focused jukes to find an advantage less good. All these systems are, in a sense, degenerate, but it’s a huge question that will reshape the series to decide what they need to be replaced with. Like Marcus, I think grabs could be good. Ultimately we need ways to break turtling and for position to matter more and those are great for that — not currently, possibly if designed with that purpose in mind. And considering how many interactions happen with large enemies where parries are useless, having a multifunctional grab (I guess roughly like Dragon’s Dogma) has some obvious advantages and gives a way to balance mechanics between modes.

Another general issue is that Dark Souls PvP is far too all-or-nothing and it’s painful that a lot of the stuff I shared above is so damaging yet so essential. It feels lame to fish for backstabs but at times it’s the best thing you can do. Nerfing backstab damage was one of the best changes made to the AotA expansion. Between that, stunlocking attacks and ridiculous magic that has to be overpowered to be good in PvE but as such has to miss a lot in PvP to avoid being overpowered. That’s a huge problem. Spells like Dark Bead and Dark Mass wouldn’t be so god awfully retarded that they needed a special item to get around them if they didn’t have to do so much damage to be useful. Dark Mass is an amazing concept for a spell, and Dark Bead has the most interesting zone of control out of any spell in the game. But they end up being grossly degenerate now because either players will die immediately to those tactics or will survive them with relative ease. Magic in general is an area where the Souls games need a lot of work and the first step to doing so will be getting past the idea that spells are big nukes to use against dumb AI. Even the roll system possibly needs revisiting, though perhaps medium roll and even to an extent, fat roll’s semi-viability is a vast improvement from the vanilla game (Funnily, I think the best part of the DWGR nerf is that the roll is much shorter range and thusly makes it harder to pivot backstab slow-rollers. I agree with Marcus fully on things like how offhand weapons should work and such, as well as with covenants. Still, I think for the PvP to really shine without detracting from the PvE, a lot of deep, fundamental changes must be made. The basic control scheme can remain, but systematically, a lot of huge changes will be required, else Dark Souls PvP will always be a silly, semi-casual affair.