As promised I thought I would detail the process I go through for each update to Adventures of Tara.
1st. – The planning stage.
I have to get the basic plan for the day’s events in mind so that I can figure out what scenes I will need to create CG images for. I almost always change things along the way and either add new scenes or adjust the ones I originally had in mind. When the game was just beginning, I had to come up with the basics for each day such as having one set of classes for the first two days, and then another set for days 3 & 4, and finally a day off from classes where the students get the opportunity to visit the local town for some fun. Now that they schedule is pretty much set (I’m sure I will throw in some surprises down the road:)), I just need to figure out what will happen in each of the classes for whatever day I am working on.
Generally, once I get rolling the plans for the day come together fairly easily and almost write themselves with obvious things that need to happen. If I am planning on Tara having a possible scene where the curse gets triggered I just need to figure out which class makes the most sense for it to occur. One of my favorite writing coincidences that I didn’t even notice at the time (and I seriously doubt anyone else caught it), was that on Day 3 in Potions class Bryce tells Tara that she should stand close to him and that he doesn’t bite. Of course, two classes later in Shapeshifting Bryce turns into a wolf and proceeds to contradict what he said by biting her! Amused me when I realized that it just happened that way without me planning that at all.
2nd. – 3D modeling and rendering.
This is where the majority of my time is spent when doing an update. Once I have the basic idea of what I want to have artwork for I start in the modeling program by selecting what items I will need for the scene. Each and every thing that you see in an image is a model that is added from a library of available content that I have. Things like, Tara, Sinius, beds, desks, floors, walls, rugs, books, wands, trees, etc, etc. I have to put everything into the scene and arrange it all based on what the camera angle is going to be. Oh, a big one is lights! Incredibly important, and very hard to tell what the effects of the lights will be until after I try and render the scene. I’ll show a couple of examples of just how much of a difference there can be between what I see in the modeling program compared to how it looks after I render it, but let me tell you, it’s a BIG difference. Here is a good example.
How it looks in the modeling program
After being rendered
The shadows on the floor, the light reflection in her eyes, the color of her clothing, these all change dramatically during the rendering process.
The other very tricky part is when there is some kind of interaction between items, such as a hand touching, errr, something else. 😉 It is very challenging to make it look like things are touching when the modeling program will just have things disappear into each other (if you look closely at the image above you can see that the ends of the sandals are going into the floor). So I have to be very careful and adjust the 2 items by tiny amounts when working on a scene of this type. I can generally change the angle of a body part (like a hand) up or down, side to side, or twist left or right and there are a lot of body part sections. Shoulder joint, upper arm, forearm, hand, the first section, second section and finally third section of each finger. Here’s a screenshot of just a portion of the body parts I adjust when fine tuning a scene.
When I first started this project, any time I began a render it could take hours to complete and my computer was almost unusable while it was running. Mouse would lag when trying to move it across the screen, web pages would take forever to load, etc. At least I could see the beginnings of the render so I could have an idea if it was going to be a good enough image or not. However, thanks to the support of my patron’s I was able to upgrade my system and add a high end video card that does nothing but handle my renders (and I am SO incredibly grateful for this!). It not only renders much faster, it also allows me to use my computer for anything else I want to do so I can actually work on the coding and dialogue while a render is in process. Makes everything easier and more efficient when working on an update!
3rd. – Coding and Dialogue.
I generally do these at the same time in RPG Maker VX ACE. I need to set up the switches so that you can’t go places that you aren’t supposed to, or not until some other requirement is met. So, for example, once you are on the Sinius route on Day 3, you can’t go to your first class unless you talk to Sinius first. If you try, you will get a message letting you know that you can’t enter yet. Once you meet with Sinius then the switch is changed so that now the first classroom is open to you, but not the 2nd, 3rd or 4th ones yet. They all have to be completed in order before gaining access to the next one. Strangely enough, the damn librarian was the most difficult pain in the ass that I have had to code so far.
(you can skip this part if you like, just going to detail why she was such a pain to code) The librarian doesn’t really do anything until after you get cursed, if you have the curse switch set, then you will automatically ask her if there are any books on curses available. This will trigger the librarian to say she will look in the archives and to check back with her in the morning and turn on the switch ‘searching for book’. If you talk to her again before sleeping she will tell you to check with her tomorrow. The next day the switch is turned off and now when you talk to her it checks to see if you have any books in your inventory. If you do she will ask you if you’ve read it, if you haven’t read it, she says no rush, if you have, she will take the book from you and you will then ask for the next book and she will start the searching for book process all over again. It’s even more complicated though because it has to check which book you should receive so there is a variable to keep track of that. I honestly can’t say how many times I thought I had it working but then figured out that there was still a problem and I had to start all over. Stupid librarian!
The dialogue is straightforward for the most part. I do a quick run through first and then start revising it to make it flow as cleanly as I can. Each time through I will adjust pauses in between characters talking, pauses within the dialogue itself, expressions for different reactions to what people are saying, etc. For the longer scenes I will go through them 10-15 times making slight adjustments until I am happy with the final result. This part also includes having the images change during the scene as well as the loops for the 2 image animations and the sound effects that go along with whatever actions are being shown in the CG’s.
4th. – Bug testing/beta test/full release.
Once everything else has been finished I will do a run through where I try and test as many things out as possible. Make each choice differently so I can be pretty certain that they are all working as intended. As you know, there are a lot of different options and they all have consequences in the game. Did you do all your homework? Read all the books on curses that are available? Meet with the Grand Master every night? Get detention? Each choice will have different dialogues and effects that will eventually determine the ending that you will see when you finish the game and I have to try and test all of the ones that will be seen in this release. Then I send it out to my excellent beta testing team for them to find whatever I may have missed (and damned if I don’t miss something every time), finally I fix everything that is reported and release the full version.