Introduction

Hi! Welcome to Part One of the Santria Retrospect Series, summarizing Santria’s development on an annual basis. At the end of the year, I enjoy to look back to see the achieved progress in a focused manner and get a refreshed overview about Santria’s development.

Santria’s development started on the 19th of July 2015 with the Humble Bundle of the RPG Maker VX Ace engine and Old School Modern game asset by finalbossblues. This purchase was highly motivated by nostalgia and good memories. I made my first gamedev attempts as a young squirrel with the RPG Maker 2000 engine and engaged myself more or less regularly in the German RPG Maker community between 2002-2005. I finished high school in 2007, then life happened and I stopped any gamedev activities during my university studies.

The discovery of the Humble Bundle offer brought back these memories and I wanted to tinker around in the more recent iteration of the RPG Maker engine and create a small adventure. Finalbossblues’ modern times assets hit home and I used them to start working on something inspired by Earthbound and Pok√©mon.

Screen from August 2015 using finalbossblues’ Old School Modern Assets

The small game starts to develop a bigger scope and I suffered from RPG Maker’s restrictions and the cumbersome integration of new art pieces while imitating the existing assets. Because of the lack of possibilities and creative freedom, I stopped with the development more or less after August 2015.

Things are getting serious…

After some hiatus, I discovered Game Maker Studio in January 2016 and started to learn more about coding using Udemy courses. I also started to pixel my own graphic assets from the ground up using Aseprite. Dawnbringer’s DB32 color palette was my early choice and I still stick to this masterfully balanced palette today. In summary, the 15th of January 2016 was the real start of the serious game development of Santria. I shared some early screenshots and concepts in the German RPG Maker community and won the Project of the Month Award for February 2016, including an awesome printed mug!

Project of the Month February 2016 award of rpg-atelier.net

In March 2016, I also started to use Twitter to share my progress and connect with the indiedev community. This approach works very well and I was able to make friends with very awesome people eventually!

The first weeks of development were wild and I experimented with a lot of different systems like a classical turn-based JRPG combat system, which was fun to code but felt uninspired in the long run. Many indie devs suggest to start small projects because it is important to learn by finishing a project, and the biggest improvement in coding and designing happens in this early learning phase. I skipped the learning process of several small projects and stuck to Santria from the beginning. This resulted in multiple rewritings of the same code over the years.

Screen from March 2016 with my first pixel art attempts.
Screen from April 2016 showing the first iteration of an already cut classical turn-based JRPG battle system.

Shared pain brings people together

In May 2016, Sabaku from Umaiki Games joined the project to use her magic fluffy hair pixel skills for reworks of existing character sprites. She designed several characters for the game and influenced the current art style and vibe significantly.

Sabbi’s remake of Tarquin – such fluffy hair!

Sabaku asked me to join the rpg-atelier server on Discord while working with her and I started to share my progress in the #produktiv-channel and was introduced to same-minded people and now awesome friends who helped with a lot of feedback and I would meet in real life, too. At this time, I also joined the Umaiki Games Collective and got to know csg and Bjoern Means Bear. The transition from a lone game dev into a member of a supportive community was the key to keeping me motivated that pushed me to aim for the best possible result.

Some of Sabbi’s awesome character designs (May 2016).

Santria shaped up more and more. My still valid pitch was to create a quirky, light-hearted, modern-setting RPG with a strong emphasis on exploration and character interactions. Location after location was created to get a better feeling for the world and improve my pixel skills. The screen capture below shows my early approach for the GUI and my first baby steps with particle effects like the leaves.

Screen record from June 2016, showing GUI and particle effects.

The first game systems

I cannot imagine a good JRPG-like game without a battle system to justify systems for character and equipment progression. A tactical turned-based battle system with quirky QTE skills and a more fast-paced, arcade-y gameplay sounded like a awesome way to combine gameplay depth with accessibility. Also, the grid room allows various approaches for cutscenes and storytelling. This concept was promising enough to try the insane step to code such a system on a coding beginner level. Phew! It worked better than expected, and here you can see the messy patched-up first iteration of the system:

Screen record from August 2018, showing the first iteration of the tactical battle system.

One of my most memorable video game childhood experiences was experiencing The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy. The overworld was lively and full of quirky secrets and possibilties to interact with the environment. The dungeon puzzles were designed around certain items, which could be used in the overworld to discover more secrets, open paths to the next destinations and twist the gameplay a bit. I wanted to introduce this sense of wonder and interactivity in Santria too, and I introduced six very distinct items you can use:

a) a bat to smash things,
b) a wrestling belt to pick up heavy items,
c) a voodoo mask to see ghosts and invisible objects,
d) a grabbing hook to pass gaps or interact with far away objects,
e) a zippo for fire balls and
f) a mythic hedron of which the function will not be revealed here…

Screen record from August 2018, displaying the use of different equipment.

Minigames, minigames, minigames…

Minigames are a good way to combine storytelling with engaging gameplay and to surprise the player with the realization of this combination. The first minigame I implemented was a silly shmup which started when the player decided to brush their teeth. Here you can see a very early WIP of the idea I am still fond of:

The first minigame in Santria, the teeth brush shmup!

Another way I try to make the game world more interactive is the implementation of playable details like bootable computers with their own operating system and applications. I believe that this level of details is very appealing for players to discover and experience.

Game Jams and other Curiosities

I wrote earlier that I skipped the “learning with small projects before starting your dream project”-phase to stick directly to Santria’s development, redoing code over and over again. Of course, this hasn’t stopped me from participating from time to time in a Game Jam which I used to get a new view on stuff and generate even more graphic assets usable for the main game.

The first game was Mail Blaster 2000, a silly shmup with the goal to stop Dr. Cooper, the evil scientist dog commanding an army of robot pigeons.

Mail Blaster 2000, a shmup created during a Game Jam in May 2016.

The second title was Woodcraft, a simple Real-Time-Strategy (RTS) video game in the tradition of Warcraft 2 and Starcraft. I really enjoyed to try my own twist on the long-abandoned video game genre. But couldn’t implement all ideas because of the time limit. The story was about the evil vampire lord who tries to pull down the moon and you have 20 minutes time to build up troops and stop the apocalypse (most creative story ever!).

The first proof of principle of Woodcraft (October 2016).
The title logo of Woodcraft, the indie RTS (October 2016).
The GUI and view of Woodcraft, the indie RTS (October 2016).

Game Maker Studio 2 and End of Year

In November 2016, the new engine of YoYo Games, Game Maker Studio 2 was released. This software is more advanced than the predecessor, allows more ports, like for the Switch, and has an overall better performance. Silly me thought: Let’s redo Santria on the new engine, you will get the chance to touch every piece of code again! Haha… ha. Yeah, I have done it. How long did it take? Something to learn in the next retrospect of Santria!

Phew, this was quite the journey! I am surprised by myself, how much stuff was done in 2016. Most basic concepts were developed and the main systems more or less implemented or at least planned. I hope you enjoyed your read as much as I enjoyed the writing!

See you next time!

– Schotti

Next: Santria Retrospect 2017