Friday, August 18, 2017

RKSF Developer Diary #2 - Hey, That's New!

Just one pipe, huh?
Well, at least we have infinite time.
...And we're back!

In our last Developer Diary entry, we had a look at some of the changes made during the localization of the original Rosenkreuzstilette that we carried over to the English version of Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel.  This time around, we'll be looking at some of the little tweaks in the English version of Freudenstachel that you'd be forgiven for not noticing.

To start things off, let's pay a visit to everyone's favorite pajama-clad shut-in, Schwer-Muta Casasola Merkle.  While her Metalman-inspired "The Black Playground" stage featured a brief homage to Super Mario Bros., Freudenstachel's "The Zeppy Ruins" goes even further with its tribute to the Mushroom Kingdom, featuring blue skies, sentient clouds oddly resembling a certain cephalopod, marching mushrooms, blocks, pipes, and even a flagpole and fort at the "end" of the stage.  With the presentation practically screaming Super Mario All-Stars, it goes without saying that we just had to match the presentation of the 16-bit version of the retro classic, reusing the Super Mario 64 font from the original RKS as appropriate.

It looks like someone forgot the ball
finial on the top of the flagpole...
Amusingly enough, there are a few minor oversights in this segment that made their way into the final version of the game.  First off, the flag and flagpole are white and green, respectively, in the original version of Super Mario Bros., whereas their colors are reversed in the Super Mario All-Stars remake.  Curiously, the Freudenstachel rendition uses the NES color scheme.  Since the background is modeled after the All-Stars version, the flag unintentionally appears to fade into the clouds.

For the English version of Freudenstachel, we added a subtle gray edge to the flag itself to help it stand out against the background.  If you have a decent monitor, you don't even need to expand the image to the left to notice the difference.  Should we have reversed the colors instead and made the stage consistently follow suit with All-Stars, or do you think this understated tweak a better solution?  Let us know in the comments below.

For obvious reasons, we also updated the "World 1-8" to reflect that this is effectively Rosenkreuzstilette 2.  Was it necessary?  Not it all.  Was it worth it?  For anyone who notices the little touches in their games: absolutely.

Message From Mr. Zeppy.
Once we begin exploring the depths of the Zeppy Ruins, a familiar face can be found carved in the walls alongside a message written in archaic script.

Wait, did I just say "archaic"?  I take that back.  It's retro, not archaic...

Anyway, well-seasoned gamers may recognize the images of a top, a shuriken, and a needle at the bottom of the mural as the icons of particular armaments in the Blue Bomber's arsenal: namely, the Top Spin, the Shadow Blade, and the Needle Cannon from Megaman 3.  The inscription itself is modeled after the transmissions sent by Dr. Light whenever the good doctor completes one of his new inventions in Megaman 2.

It was a bit of a challenge to get the wording of the English rendition just right, accurately conveying the meaning of the riddle on the wall while preserving the nods to both games.  The screenshot to the right depicts the "question" that the player needs to solve in order to proceed.  An "answer" engraving can be found two screens away from this one (of course, if you find it, that likely means that you chose poorly and cost Freudia her life...).

For a second, these two screenshots looked
like they had naturally merged together...
Let's skip ahead a considerable bit and check out Schirach's Sandstorm Stage.  Naturally, the Count Bombs in this stage are modeled after their explosive counterparts from Megaman 6.  Curiously, WOMI decided to take the seven incarnations of the upright bomb, rotate all seven sprites, one at a time, to create the other three detonator variants, and apply shading and highlights to all thirty-five sprites individually.

For the English version of RKSF, we decided to remake the Count Bomb graphics, keeping the timer facing the same direction no matter where its detonator was located.  The reason for this change was two-fold.  First, the source material always had the timers facing the same direction; it's only appropriate that the RKSF renditions follow suit.  Second, graphic designers in video games have a responsibility to ensure that all graphical elements are user-friendly and easily-legible.  For example, when you look at an HP gauge, you should be able to figure out how much HP you have in an instant.  In this case, the fraction of a second needed to tilt your head and read the timers properly could mean the difference between the bombs exploding in your face or not.

Whoa, it's past midnight already?  It looks like I spent too much time gathering screenshots for this post.  Well, I'll just have to wrap things up here for now.

In the next Developer Diary, we'll be meeting the new members of the Rosenkreuzstilette universe.  See you then!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Provisional RKSF Developer Diary - O Captain, My Captain!

It's been an honor serving under you...
Hello, everyone.  It's time for the next installment of the RKSF Developer Diary.

Before we get started on today's entry, there's a proverbial elephant in the room that I need to address.  Many among you may be aware of the fact that I work as the de facto assistant manager of a Thai restaurant to pay the bills, keep a roof over my head, and replace any equipment I need for my localization work (whether it be my glasses, my hard drive, or my entire computer system).  To borrow a phrase from Spiritia: "But people... people aren't the same.  People can't be replaced."...

Two days after my last blog post, Betty Toye, the owner of our restaurant, suddenly passed away.  The story of her passing is a tragic one, and one that should give fans of Angel Beats a serious case of déjà vu.  In all honesty, this story isn't mine to tell.  If I mention that Betty's death felt too close to Masami Iwasawa's for comfort, I'm sure the vast majority of you will be able to piece together what happened and how.
Let me be completely serious for a moment:

If you ever take a blow to the head, for any reason, go see a doctor immediately.  It doesn't matter if you feel alright or not, if you're part of a sports team and that head injuries "just come with the territory".  It only takes a moment of misplaced bravado to give yourself a death sentence.  Even if you do try to get help, the doctors might not be able to get to you in time...

It goes without saying that things have been rough at my day job without Betty around.  Unlike most bosses, she was pretty hands-on with everything.  Friendly, outgoing, and in terrific shape for someone her age (she was 67, but had the energy of someone in their thirties).  As you can imagine, as the de facto assistant manager, it's been my duty to step up and take charge of things at the restaurant while my manager (Betty's son-in-law) tends to his family.  It's been a rough couple of weeks, and there's nothing we can do but move forward on our own.

I'm sorry for starting things off on a depressing note, but this is something I really needed to get off of my chest.  Betty wasn't the first person close to me to have died this year (my friend Richard passed away in March), but this is the first time someone so integral to my day-to-day life has died.  It's no exaggeration to say that there's a dark void at the restaurant that we're doing our best to fill.  It's only a matter of time before we're back to business as usual (pun not intended).  If you don't hear from me for a while, you'll know exactly where I am and what I'm doing.

I suppose it's perfect timing that I was able to hand off the revised source code to our publisher before this recent slew of developments.

Now that I've said what I needed to say, let's get back into the swing of things.  Join me in a few hours for our regularly-scheduled programming...

(Oh, who am I kidding?  We've never had a "regular" schedule...)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

RKSF Developer Diary #1 - Recycle Cycle

There's no point in denying it:
the RKSF Title Screen is much cooler.
Hello, everyone!

It's been a long haul, and I know that many among you have been waiting for years to catch a glimpse of the English version of Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel.  Well, wait no more: it's time for the first installment of the RKSF Developer Diary!

Before we dive into what's changed between the original Rosenkreuzstilette and its sequel, I figured it'd be appropriate to have a look at what's stayed the same between the two games.  By that, I mean what changes we made for the English version of Rosenkreuzstilette that we were able to carry over to Freudenstachel.

As many of you are no doubt aware, eight of the ten first-generation Megaman titles use the same assets and sprites with nearly imperceptible differences in the game's mechanics and physics.  It should come as no surprise that Rosenkreuzstilette follows suit, preserving what worked in the original while subtly changing what didn't.  As we'll see in future entries, some elements that Freudenstachel borrows from the classic Blue Bomber have been used to create something completely different.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though.  Let's start at the beginning.

I couldn't tell you if this was a screenshot
from Rosenkreuzstilette or Freudenstachel...
Surprising absolutely no one, the [erka:es] logo and bonus scenario overlay haven't changed a bit from the original game.  Exciting stuff, I'm sure.  RKSF's file structure contains an entire directory of files lifted straight from the original RKS.  Rather than straight-up copy the files from the original English release of RKS, I decided to take the opportunity to make some stealthy touch-ups to these graphics and export them to both the launch build of Freudenstachel and Version 2.10a of Rosenkreuzstilette.  When the update goes live for RKS, don't be surprised if some things feel just a little bit different that you remember them.  For the most part, it's nothing worth spotlighting here.  I doubt anyone would really notice that a handful of elements on the Status Subscreen were nudged over by a few pixels, for example.

The more things change,
the more they stay the same.
Once the opening text crawl fades in, I'm sure many among you may be experiencing a bit of déjà-vu.  Don't worry: it's not just your imagination.  The text may be a different color and set over a moonlit castle instead of a twilit cathedral, but first couple of lines of text in Freudenstachel are word-for-word identical to their counterparts in the prequel.  This repetition was done specifically to allow people who hadn't played the original Rosenkreuzstilette to bring themselves up to speed without wasting any time on lengthy exposition dumps.  The rest of the text crawl recaps what has happened since the events of the first game in the same vein as Megaman X2.  One of the most common complaints about the opening cutscene in the first RKS was that the expository banter between Spiritia and Lilli was sooo looong.  While Freudenstachel begins on a similar note, there's a sense of urgency to its plot that forces the characters to get a move on and not waste time mincing words.

Of course, there have always been a few characters in the RKS universe that don't particularly pay attention to the grand scheme of things.  Their interactions with the rest of the cast remain as amusing as ever.

As you can see in the screenshots at the top of this post, the changes I made to Rosenkreuzstilette's Title Screen have been carried over to Freudenstachel's.  In other words, choosing the default "Game Start" options begin a new game at the very beginning of Story Mode instead of at the Stage Select Screen in Arcade Mode.  This time around, if you're playing through Story Mode and wish to skip text that you've already read through, you can press the Status button to skip the remainder of that scene instead of hammering the Confirm button or holding the Cancel button.

No silhouettes or frames this time around;
other than that, they're pretty much the same.
The Options and Controls Menus are pretty much what you'd expect them to be; I covered our tweaks to them in detail in RKS Developer Diary #2Freudenstachel's Options Menus follow its predecessor's in every respect save for one:

When I was working on Freudenstachel's Options Menus, I did so without really consulting their counterparts in the original Rosenkreuzstilette.  It didn't occur to me at the time to carry the frames and silhouettes that I'd added to the Grollschwert incarnation of these graphics over to the sequel.  The Options Menus for both the Freudenstachel and Weißsilber scenarios are almost identical to their respective Title Screens, so I never noticed that something might be missing until I started compiling screenshots for this blog post.

That's a lot of blue...
Still, even without these touches, the menus look great.  If Freudenstachel ends up requiring an update later down the line, I might take the opportunity to add the shadows and borders back in.  As it stands, though, I'm perfectly fine with the game shipping with the menus in their current state.

There isn't really much to say about the presentation of the Status Subscreen that I haven't already said in RKS Developer Diary #6.  In the Japanese version of Rosenkreuzstilette, the rollover graphic for each ability featured the name of each ability in German as well as its meaning in Japanese.  For the English versions of the game, we replaced the Japanese translations with their English equivalents.  In Freudenstachel, the rollover graphics don't feature Japanese translations of each ability's name; instead, they spell out the name of each ability in katakana to help Japanese natives pronounce them all properly.  This information isn't all that useful to English-speaking players; after all, the majority of us can't read katakana, and we have Freudia's sound clips to clarify how each name is supposed to be pronounced.  So, for the sake of consistency with the original Rosenkreuzstilette, we decided to replace the katakana renderings with the English renditions of each name.  Before you ask: yes, we will be exploring these in detail in a future developer diary entry.

Decisions, decisions...
If only there were a book that
claimed to hold all the answers...
You may recall from RKS Developer Diary #4 that RKS's Stage Select screen features a handful of verses from Christianity's Holy Bible.  These verses return in the sequel, both on the original Rosenkreuzstilette version of the Stage Select Screen as well as the Schwarzkreuz incarnation that is unlocked after all eight main stages have been completed.  The very same Bible verses appear yet again during the battle with the Homunculi, adorning the background of every single room during the boss rush.  It's like the Bible is following you around every time you need to make a decision...

Naturally, we made a point of touching-up the German and integrating our English localization as seamlessly as possible.

Yep, empty passwords work
the way they're supposed to.
To wrap things up for this inaugural entry, let's have a quick look at the game's system strings.  You may recall that, whenever you get a Game Over, complete a stage, or hit the Pause button to save a replay, some rather tidy English text appears in both the English and Japanese versions of the game prompting you to make a decision.  In the original Rosenkreuzstilette, this text was written in Bookman Old Style in black text with a white outline; in Freudenstachel, the same text appears in Times New Roman in white with a pale blue outline.  In the spirit of Megaman, we felt it would be more appropriate to maintain the same style of presentation between entries while giving each entry just a bit of its own identity.  So, we decided to use Bookman Old Style throughout (it's the same font as the Stage Select Screen, after all) while retaining the original colors from the Japanese versions.  We applied this same philosophy to the boss introductions and the ending credits.

Well, that's all for now.  I have a vague idea of what I'll shine a spotlight on next time, but, if there's anything in particular that you'd like to see, be sure to ask for it in the comments below!

See you next time!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

State of the Schwesternschaft

"My fellow Rosicrucians..."
Hello, everyone!  It's been a while!

I have to apologize for the extended silence on this blog since the official English release of Rosenkreuzstilette.  Without going into too much detail, our free time has become somewhat of an endangered species these past few months.  Juggling getting Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel ready for its English debut along with lots of overtime at my day job, some personal drama, and the death of a good friend has left me with little time to write up any meaningful posts.  As you probably already know, I'd rather wait until I have the time to do something right than attempt to half-assedly wing it, so I've resisted the urge to write any insubstantial "still alive" posts here on Schwer and Schwer Alike.  I'm sorry if that decision has caused any of you to worry about the fate of Freudenstachel.

It's been three and a half months since Rosenkreuzstilette's official release, and I have to admit that I'm a bit conflicted about the game's reception.  On one hand, professional translators and longtime doujin games enthusiasts have been ecstatic about the game's official release.  Clyde Mandelin (whom many of you may know as the man behind the Mother 3 fan translation) invited me to tell our story on his Legends of Localization website.  Censored Gaming, much to my surprise, adapted that article into a short video congratulating our professional debut.  A small handful of YouTube Let's Players have shone a spotlight on the game, and I couldn't be more flattered by their starstruck reactions when identifying myself in the comments section of their videos.  The positive vibes have seriously helped me with some of the pain I've had to work through in my personal life as of late.  I never imagined anyone would be that excited to meet me; it's the perfect remedy for treating a broken heart.

On the flip side, there's been a whole lot of indifference and even some outright hostility towards RKS's English release.  In the span of over three months, not one major gaming news outlet has reviewed Rosenkreuzstilette, not even the ones we passed free review copies to.  According to Metacritic, a single enthusiast website has reviewed the game, giving it a satisfied 4 out of 5.  Metacritic doesn't assign its own score to a game until at least four high-profile outlets have given it a shot, so RKS currently has a Metascore of "tbd".  Given how stoked the Megaman fanbase was for a spiritual successor to the Blue Bomber, you'd think classic gaming sites would be all over this release...

To be totally honest, I wanted my first post-release blog entry to showcase the coverage the game has received; I can't really do that when there's barely any coverage worth showcasing...

This would-be activist doesn't seem to
realize that The Emperor's New Clothes
isn't pornography.  If s/he does, we
have a clear double-standard here.
To top it all off, although Steam reviews of the game are overall "Very Positive", there are what I can only describe as Social Justice Wankers harassing players on the Steam forums, openly calling them basement-dwelling pedophiles and questioning why Steam allows the "sexual exploitation of young girls" on its service.  I won't dignify this accusation beyond what you see to the left; I'll let the screencaps speak for themselves.

Anyway, onto more relevant news:

We submitted our release candidate of Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel to Playism in mid-April.  I'll be submitting a revised release candidate later this week to correct a minor bug that slipped by us (in the previous build, random large Vitality Orb drops were automatically being replaced by small ones...).  We also submitted Version 2.10a of the original Rosenkreuzstilette a few weeks ago.  This version integrates a certain well-known official mod into the game, fixes up a few minor bugs, and touches up the graphics here and there (including a good chunk of the Game Over references).  Per our publisher's request, I've left any remaining tasks (bugfixes, achievements, subtitles for Freudenstachel) in their hands for the sake of expediency.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news to share.  Playism has officially pulled its support for hard copies and English language voicework for the game.  That isn't to say that these two key elements of Schwesternschaft have been scrapped; Playism just isn't able to cover our costs.  However, they've gracefully stepped aside on the subject of the R05 artbook and will allow us to work with another publisher to get the artbook financed, localized, and printed.  We already have a party interested in partnering with us for R05 as well as the production of merch like keychains and postcards.  We'll keep you posted on that topic whenever we have anything to announce.  If things go well and these physical goods sell as well as we hope, we may well be able to salvage everything we've already invested into Schwesternschaft...

Well, that's enough out of me for now!  Next time will be the inaugural entry of the Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel Developer Diary.  I'm curious to know what you'd like me to shine a spotlight on first.  Feel free to look back on our original RKS Developer Diary and suggest a debut topic in the comments below.  There's a lot to cover before the game's English debut, and I'll try and add new posts whenever I'm able to make the time.

Until then!