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Convenience Wars – Update Post – Redesign of everything?

Hi guys, it’s been a long time, several months in fact. We are back! Seems that life kinda just got in the way of everything, as seems to happen. However it turned out to be a very good thing. The entire Rakit Studios team has come back together and been working hard for a week on a redesign sprint. We’re not totally finished yet, but we’re finished enough that we wanted to share a few things with you.

User Interface
One thing we hadn’t worked on at all before was the user interface. We had discussed it many times, but decided as a team that working on the content of the game was more important. However, after our hiatus, it seemed very important to us to create the look’n’feel that players would experience. Cue AliasVegas, bringing in the designing guns and firing out a fifty calibre design. We’re all totally stoked about it and it inspired us not only to rework the logo, which secretly I was the only person who seemed to like it, but to decide that we had completed our logo. The GUI was designed around being app like, bubbly and simple to use. There was a great focus on a fresh feeling. Since our VN is about two convenience stores, it sort of fit that we would go for a stylish, clean and very over produced GUI.

Take a look at some of the screenshots below:

Title Screen GUI

Title Screen GUI

In Game GUI

In Game GUI

Preferences GUI

Preferences GUI

Save Load GUI

Save Load GUI

Logo
The logo was reworked after the Main Screen had been designed by AliasVegas. The colours and feel she had chosen were worked in to the logo by cbx33 (me). I felt it was important to maintain the same look’n’feel in the logo that was present in the GUI and the team seemed to agree. After the initial logo concept, we actually went through only very minor changes. That in itself was proof to us that we had finally hit on the right logo for our VN. I’ve often found in design work, though I’m no designer, that a design is finished when you add something and decide the design is better off without it.

Logo Design

Logo Design

Characters
Though we’re only giving you a brief preview today, all of the Convenience Wars characters have undergone major redesigns. This isn’t to say the original characters were bad at all, but through the break period, AliasVegas, our Art Director, really began thinking a lot more about character design and how to make them feel more real. As we reveal more of the characters you will notice how different they are and hopefully see that we’ve dolloped an extra amount of care and attention this time around too.

Yukito Redesigned

Yukito Redesigned

CG Backgrounds
Well. What can I say here. We’ve had a huge change of direction here. I previously posted about using the Edge Detection node setup that we were using in Blender for the outlines. Turns out that during our break, Freestyle was integrated into Blender. Freestyle is a much more configurable way of introducing edge lines in Blender. I toyed with this for a few weeks, but during the sprint, we decided that we didn’t actually want to use outlines in our backgrounds at all. That was one of the biggest shifts in the design work and coupled with taking a more realistic approach, we ended up with an image which is completely different from the original.

Classroom Old

Classroom Old

Classroom Redesigned

Classroom Redesigned

We spent a large amount of time on the lighting, working on just the right setup to get the shadows plus the bloom effect on the window areas. sbx34 and I worked together for several hours producing render after render. As it turns out, the new way of rendering our scenes turns out to be a lot less compute intensive that previous, so bonus all round then! We also made the decision to upscale the game from 1280×720 to 1366×768. We did consider HD, but for this VN, we’ll be sticking to the latter. We didn’t want the possibility of the game slowing down on older machines and so decided against HD. sbx34 has been becoming very well acquainted with CG trees. We need a forest. I think he hates me.

So as you can see a very very busy time. All of the GUI work, redesigned Yukito, rendering, basically everything discussed in this post was achieved in a week. We’ve really worked flat-out and I think proven to ourselves that we definitely have what it takes to make Convenience Wars a success.

Let us know what you think – we’re gonna take a break for a few minutes

cbx33Project Coordinator

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Convenience Wars : Interview with cbx33, Project Coordinator

Convenience Wars – An interview with Cbx33

I’m Slient_Phoenix and I was asked by cbx33 to conduct interview for Rakit Studios all about Convenience Wars. Knowing some of cbx33’s previous projects, I’m excited to find out more about their newest project. After doing some research and finding that I had more questions than time, I decided to break my questions up into topics. So, in what I hope to be the start of a set of interviews here’s what cbx33 had to say.

Where did the idea to get together and make a game come from?

“Well, it started out as more of a merchandise idea. AliasVegas was working on character designs to put onto products with a view of starting an online manga merchandise store. We liked the characters that AliasVegas came up with and we decided that they deserve some kind of back stories to make them more real to people and so the idea of putting the characters into a game was born. With me doing the majority of coding and script writing, AliasVegas handling the artwork for the sprites, sbx34 working on the sound effects and extra coding and stupid_little_genius doing the backgrounds.”

So what is the premise of the game?

“It’s based around two Convenience stores which were inexplicably built right opposite each other. The game follows Satoshi Kobayashi, who gets a job at one of these stores. The work force at each store intensely dislikes the workforce of the other store, cue many an insult and funny moments. Things start off well, but after a while Satoshi is drawn into a battle that he knows nothing about and is totally unprepared for. The events that follow will completely change his life and the relationships he has with his co-workers at Yuudai-Mart.”

And how are you going to deliver this story to your audience?

“Well, we’re using the format of a Visual Novel. Very popular in Japan, not so in the Western world. It’s kinda like an interactive story. The beauty of it, is that you can make choices and decisions as the game progresses in order to change the outcome. That’s a plus and a negative at the same time, we’re not just happy with creating a single story arch with a few subtle changes, we’re talking about major changes in story archs. That’s the plan anyway.”

How big and how many arc’s are you thinking about?

“It’s hard to say. On the major side, no more than two or three. The subtle ones are a little easier, like you may be walking down the street and depending on your choices, you may meet two different people. The larger arcs might be like, X dies or doesn’t…..that’s gonna be a game changer.”

You mentioned that visual novels are more popular in Japan than the western world, so why chose that as your vehicle for your story?

“Um, I think basically because it’s as close to making an anime as we can get. There’s no way that we’d be able to create an anime series. So merging an anime story with a still(er) medium, allows us to create the same look and feel of watching an anime, with a thousandth less of the work. Looking at some of the newer series where there are 11,000 frames per episode, there’s just no hope of us ever achieving that with one artist”

So would you say you draw a lot of inspiration and direction from Japanese culture?

“Oh of course, we are anime fans through and through, so Convenience Wars is supposed to be our best attempt at making an anime-ish story if that makes sense. I mean there are things in the story that are drawn from the culture itself, you know, things you wouldn’t get in the UK or US, but it’s more about the type of story. I’ve thought for a long time that we’ve kinda grown a little stagnant in Western cinema, and it’s only occasionally that you see something crazy that’s taken seriously. If that makes sense? A lot of anime stories are based around an entirely ludicrous idea, but it’s just a mechanism for telling a much deeper tale.”

Knowing a little about japanese culture and anime myself, what genres within the anime world does your story fit?

“Hmm….that’s kinda tough and not. It’s got your basic anime feel to it, there is a lot of humour and character interaction, but also there will be a very dark undertone. It’s most definitely not all rainbows and sunshine. I guess in english terms, it would be a fantasy thriller, though the emphasis on fantasy is less so.”

Bearing that in mind who are your target audience?

“Um, we’re trying to appeal to a more general audience first time round. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a very tight genre, so we’re trying to create something that has universal appeal. The idea of it being in a shop is rather mundane, something that a lot of people have experienced, either working there, or even just shopping in itself. So it’s a trade off between creating something that has a uniqueness, but at the same time, not narrowing the field too much.”

I caught on to something interesting in there, ‘first time round’ are you leave it open to a sequel?

“Well, not necessarily a sequel, but we may try something different if we make another game. Possibly something with a very strong game mechanic or based around a very tight genre, I’m really not sure.”

Going back to something you said earlier, you decided to make a game to go along side merchandising. How did that evolve?

“Well, Aliasvegas was starting to draw a lot more anime/manga characters and had the idea of putting original characters onto some merchandise. Original characters are cool, but of course if no one knows them, then you have less of an attraction, to some. So the idea was the generate an affinity for the characters, so that other people would be able to relate to and want to buy CW merchandise”

So Aliasvegas is your artist, can you tell me more about your team?

“Well, it’s pretty tiny, we only have 4 team members right now. 1 scriptwriter/coder/voice actor/composer, 1 creative director/lead artist/voice actor, 1 foley artist/coder/emoter/voice actor, and 1 background artist. But I see the voice acting crew growing”

And one last question, in a short summary what can you audience expect from Convenience Wars? A synopsis if you will

“Hmmm……fun, pain, excitement and maybe some tears. I’m not giving too much away right now – wait for the demo”

Thank you to cbx33 for giving me an insight in to Convenience Wars and the direction it could be going. Hopefully I’ll be back and next time I’ll be talking to Aliasvegas about the characters and who they are.

I’m Silent_Phoenix and until next time, stay frosty.


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Convenience Wars – Update Post – Battle Systems and more!

Hi everyone? Miss us? Probably not! But hey, we’ve got a lot to talk about this time. So it’s been a while since the last proper update post and we thought it was a good idea to keep you updated with how things were going. We’re a little more organised this time round, so it’s split up into proper sections.

Battle System
Hinted at strongly on our FB page, we’ve been working heavily this week on a battle system. Seeing as the characters play a live role playing type game, we thought it would be kinda fun to bring that to life by having a proper RPG style game built into it. The main focus was not necessarily on the actual battle system, but on making sure that the characters can still bring up dialogue boxes throughout the fight. This was very important to us, as the battles will be largely predetermined and we wanted the dialogue to help carry the battle on through.

It was also crucial to make sure that the battles are not seen as too arcade/important. The mechanism is there simply to enhance the experience. Having a character say, “you rolled a six, that means your character takes a hit,” would be far too bland. Doing it this way means the “boring-ness” of the battle is contained in a turn-based RPG environment, whilst there is still room for characters to talk and engage with the player.

Whilst we did say that some of the fights are predetermined, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome or the journey through the battle is predetermined. Though Satoshi may be guided as to what options to choose, the player will be free to make their own choices. Just make sure you don’t tick off Oni too much eh?

Sounds
sbx34 has been hard at work putting more sounds into the game. They are certainly adding that extra dimension that we were looking for. The next step is to try to incorporate some environmental sounds. Like a slightly busy street, or inside a shop, but that’s the next step for sure. The music hasn’t really been worked on much recently, but more will follow for sure.

Artwork
aliasvegas has been churning out more characters. Out of the 22 significant characters, we have designs completed for at least 6 and all of those have at least 4-5 expressions and several have 2 or more poses. With the introduction of the battle system, we decided to push the boat out and have chibi versions of the characters in there also. It turned out to be an excellent idea and the fruits of that labour will be displayed soon.

Storyline/Script
Well, since the last update post, there has been about 3,000 words added to the script. We know, we know, that’s not a lot, but it’s a start. The script is actually the easiest bit of the game to do. We have the premise tied down nicely and some of the story details figured out well. So time has been spent more on the technical side of things making sure that we can actually do what we want to do.

Backgrounds
stupid_little_genius has finished our first background and let us say, it looks awesome. We’ll be displaying that shortly in a mini video to showcase our overall style. Expect that in the coming weeks.

So that’s it for this week….join us next time

cbx33 – Project Coordinator


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Convenience Wars – Update Post – Interview Questions Beta

So, a very early part of Convenience Wars has Satoshi filling out an interview questionnaire. It was important to us that this functioned well. The first iteration of the IQ screen had the user click on a question number. This would then present the user with the specific options for that question. We have to admit, the screenshot below isn’t very appealing, but at least the mechanism worked.

Queue tonight’s work and we sat down to think about how we could style and design this. We wanted it to look as realistic as we could. With that in mind, we set about making it look like a real piece of paper with printed questions on it. The background was created from scratch then it was just a case of creating some text buttons and placing them in the right parts of the screen.

We weren’t satisfied with that 😦 The buttons took away the feel of a real piece of paper and we really wanted to retain that level of immersion in the game. After a little wrangling, we managed to get Ren’Py to forget about the button styling and make the buttons become part of the paper itself. There is still work to be done. For one thing, we need to come up with a logo for the Yuudai-Mart store and that will be placed somewhere at the top. We do however feel much more comfortable with the look and feel of the IQ screen now. Having to jump through multiple screens before was just cumbersome and we’re pleased we managed to simplify this down to a single sheet of paper.

Hopefully you like what you see and anyone who has played a Visual Novel before should be familiar with what this questionnaire is trying to achieve.
Till next time peeps 🙂
cbx33 – Project Coordinator


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Convenience Wars Alpha Phone Demo

So for the past few weeks we’ve been hard at work on some of the game mechanics. Though a cellphone in a Visual Novel isn’t a new thing, nor is it a new thing anywhere really, but whilst we were thinking about the game and how to make it interesting for people, the constant theme of immersion kept ringing in our ears. If people are going to play the game and get involved in it, they need to feel immersed. For that to happen, there has to be something other than just reams and reams of text. We spoke recently about mini-games, and whilst they add something extra to a Visual Novel, it didn’t feel wholly right to us to move in that direction.

We didn’t want Convenience Wars to feel cheap and so it became more apparent to us that the more important aspect was that of immersive gameplay. We want the player to feel like a) they are a part of the game, and b) that they can choose how to act in the game and that those choices will have consequences. We’re not going to dwell on non-linear game play at the moment, that’ll come later. What became more important to us was not to distract the player with mini-games that are often not based on/related to reality, but to give them things to do that made the game feel more real.

The introduction of the phone was an idea to do just that. When the phone rings, you don’t have to answer it, you can just cancel the call. How will that affect the way the game progresses? Will the character call back? That’s why you’ll have to play on to find out. When you receive an SMS message, you have the choice of how to respond and that response will stay in your message history for you to review as the game moves on. Maybe you make a bad decision and have to live with it staring you in the face. Better think carefully.
Below is the phone concept that we’ve been working on. Yes it’s a little crude, but the theming isn’t complete. The idea was to make a phone that ‘kinda worked like a real phone’. Let us know what you think.

00:01 shows the phone ringing with the choice to Answer or Cancel.
00:07 shows the reading of older messages.
00:24 shows an incoming SMS message with the option to reply.


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Convenience Wars – Update Post – Making a cellphone

Our Visual Novel, Convenience Wars, will feature a cellphone as part of the game play. Some of the characters will send messages to Satoshi and the player will have to decide how to react. Sometimes, the player will receive calls from other characters and have to decide whether Satoshi should pick up the phone or not.

We thought it would be interesting to show the development of the phones messaging user interface. We haven’t yet managed to get the reply system working, but it’s a step in the right direction. Let us know what you think of what we’ve accomplished so far.

Initial design of boxes

Adding a little more padding, right aligned

Text colour change

The message window wrapped


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Convenience Wars – Update Post – Something to show for it

Hey guys, first off an apology for not having a second Character Friday yet. Next week it will probably be the turn of Satoshi Kobayashi, our protagonist. Granted we haven’t given too much of the story away yet, but that’s coming too. We don’t want to overload you with too much information now do we?

What have you been up to Rakit?

So this week has been heavily focussed on creating some tests of some of the in-game mechanisms. We are using the awesome Ren’Py framework for creating our Visual Novel. It’s written in Python, probably one of the best languages for writing things rapidly in. Python isn’t fussy about a lot of things, at least, it’s not fussy about the things we don’t care about, so it works for us. Ren’Py gives us all the tools we need to develop our game. Though I don’t like to admit it, it handles most of the difficult bits, like working with the sound card and graphics overlay. This leaves us to work on the more….ahem….important things, like story and making things look pretty. The image below is an early test of layout and UI (user interface) the background is a heavily filtered photo at this stage and will eventually be replaced by a nicely drawn element.

An early test of the layout of the Visual Novel

The game isn’t going to do well if it’s just text and nothing else. If it were just text, we may as well just release the story as a book. No! The whole point of the Visual Novel is that it’s something interactive. Most Visual Novels have, at the very least, some choices that the player makes along the way. Remember the old Fighting Fantasy novels where you had to turn to a different page, depending on the choice you made? Well there’s definitely an element of that. However, that alone isn’t going to be enough to keep people going, so we have to include something else in the game.

Mini games / Things to do

Mini games are an obvious extra that we can put into the game. They give the player a relief from the monotony of just reading dialogue and give them something else fun to do. We’ve not 100% decided on what mini games are going to be in Convenience Wars, but we have at least gotten round to thinking about it. Ren’Py has tools to help us here too and so the next few weeks will probably be spent developing and honing the mini game elements of the game. When we release the demo, the intention is that it will be a representation of the entire game, just shortened. So it will have a number of mini games along with voice acting, story plot twists…….the works!

So where are we at the moment?

We have a lot of the core look’n’feel of the game sorted. By that we mean that we know the direction we are going. We have something playable that represents where we want to go. To be honest peeps, that’s half the battle. We’re still stupidly psyched about the whole thing and are really starting to get to grips with the overall task of what has to be done.

Another test of layout in Convenience Wars

We know that it’s going to take a long time to finish, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. We would really really appreciate your feedback on how things are looking so far or maybe what kind of mini games you yourself enjoy in games.

Until next time peeps….

cbx33 – Project Coordinator