|Posted by Chris Crooks on July 2, 2013 at 1:45 PM|
Well gang, my brother and I submitted the prototype/proof of concept/work in progress that is FreeHolder to Indiecade 2013. The game is certainly not bug-free, and probably not even game-ending crash-free, but it goes smoothly enough and has enough variety and concepts implemented to give them a clear idea of what we're going for with this game. Considering that they encourage works in progress, I suspect our game has as much of a chance as any such submission can have, if lack of polish or buginess will count heavily against an unfinished game. Considering that the inception of this was really only about 8 months ago, and I had to learn many things as I went, I'm pleased with the progress on the game.
I think our overall chances of being finalists is fairly strong. I have great faith in the appeal of both the core concepts and narrative of the game as well as the style of play, the huge level of replayability the game already has. and its potential for becoming something truly remarkable. It's an odd but appealing mash-up of board game mechanics, JRPG graphics and leveling, farmsim/survival plus a roguelilke environment that can't help but be attractive to people that are looking for something different, and deep, and adaptable to many styles of play. If you like to fight you can focus on the combat aspects of the game to accomplish your goals, whereas if you prefer stealth and subterfuge there is a system in place for that. If you like to raise animals you can focus on breeding and sell scads of wool, extra cheese, and prime grade meat. Money can accomplish most things in FreeHolder, and people that want to focus more on the farming/production side of the game can still succeed mightily with a bit of shrewd marketeering. Mercenaries and the like will also be available if you want to keep your vital non-combat characters out of the fray entirely. People like me, inclined to the mystical, have a highly customizable magic skill and enchantment system that lets your Initiates fill in the gaps in your lineup. And what we have planned for the final game, a second two-choice class advancement that further specializes your character, unlocks an extra equipment slot, typed minor action, and eventually gives access to an Epic skill, well, you can see how obsessed I am with class changes. Way back in high school, one of the absurdly huge rpgs I exhaustively designed out with my friend Mike had 3 class changes inherent in the game design. My favorite Super Nintendo game, Secret of Mana 3 had 2 class changes, each one going either in the light or dark direction, meaning each character had a total of 2 mid and 4 end-game classes, and since you can only choose 1 per game, the replay value of each character is higher than any other SNES RPG I've played. The character often receive massively different skills and special attacks depending on what you class them to.
"So what?" you may reasonably ask. "Who cares about classes?" Well, they are (or should be, in my mind) a game design method with which to allow the player to experience a couple of things.
1) Open up new and more complex play options as they play through and become more used to the simpler earlier game. In FreeHolder, once a Ranger learns Forester, you can now completely hack down a forest for a large quantity of wood, but of course it becomes a meadow and you lose the ability to get wood from it ever again. This is a consideration that would probably be lost on a beginning player who still doesn't understand how much lumber and firewood they'll generally need. In the hands of a more experienced player, though, Clear Cut can be used with some discrimination to deal with emergencies and respond more flexibly to the situation.
2) The more complex and powerful play options that are unlocked are tailored in some fashion to the style of the player playing the game. People that play a certain way will be given high-level options in the very areas that they focus on, encouraging them to explore more fully aspects of the game that they enjoy, or they think will be useful. In FreeHolder, when you level you are given the choice to learn any skill from the class that you don't know, or upgrade an existing one. There are three in the demo but there will probably be four or five in the final game. That way the leveling itself can also be a response to in-game challenges. You might level a character into a Ranger specifically to learn Forester as you have a lumber crunch, or you need to plant some saplings because there aren't any additional forests in your immediate starting area.
Ideally, classing up should bring players to a new level of gameplay, where they have more powerful skills but they will require more experience and discrimination to use them properly, as well as having more difficult challenges that will require such skills. Being an all-powerful god is fun for a little while, but challenges are what make games rewarding, and the player should feel a proportionately greater reward for beating more difficult challenges because they've evolved as a player, not just because their character has become insanely strong.
However, I'm not denying the pure awesomeness when you send your gladiator to deal with a few bandits and he just carves through them and scatters them to the winds. I liked the movie 300, after all. This game would not entirely be mine without some type of combat. Lots of fightin' happenin' back in them Roman times. Plus Matt is a mild fanatic vis-a-vis ancient Rome, and the dice rolling mechanics of the combat system are an adaptation of a MUSH based on ancient Rome called the The Eternal City. The combat system still needs a great deal of work, but my original goal, to make it quick, exciting, and strategic without being overly ponderous, seems possible when I see it working at its most bug-free.
So I have high hopes for Indiecade, but irregardless our current goal remains the same: to have the most polished, delicious demo of this game ready to go by Indiecade, whether that's due to the fact that we are finalists or not. Then we gonna go and network like it's the Matrix all up in there. One way or another, be it venture capital, kickstarter, or some other method, this game will be realized in full. And then, my friends, people will be able to play it on their Ouya. That will be one surreal day.
The Indiecade submitted version, v.630 in honor of the submission date and my birthday, has a plethora of visual upgrades, bug-fixes and tweaks plus a host of dandy new mousover infotext features that will make the game approximately 72% less confusing for new FreeHolders. You'll be treated to "hand-drawn" (on the computer) plot tiles, characters that are specifically designed to activate every part of your brain involved in playing Squaresoft games, and icons for every item and good in the game, Now if only I could squash that damnable icon display bug. Check it out and play, friends. Plenty of tweaks and updates are coming down the pipeline, and your involvement in testing is critical. Give us some feedback, and we'd much appreciate it.
Keep your fingers crossed for Indiecade 2013 - we'll know at the end of August. In the meantime, enjoy FreeHolder and the fancy gameplay guide section on the website which Matt has assembled with astonishing speed and vigor. Plenty more sections of that are also going to be released soon, so hopefully people who feel a bit intimidated by the complete lack of information on or in the game can find some help. Unless they want to e-mail us directly, of course. Or use the forums. Yes, we have forums.
Thanks to all our supporters, and good harvest to you!