Tuesday, September 13, 2016

RKS Developer Diary #13 - Game Over, man!

Murder on the Mississippi
(Commodore 64)
Hi, everyone!  It's been too long since my last entry.

By now, it's no big surprise that my personal life gets pretty hectic at times.  Sometimes, it's for the worse (my godmother / great aunt recently passed away, one of my roommates needed to move out because of financial problems, and my schedule at my day job has me working more hours than before).  Sometimes, though, it's for the better (part of my schedule change is because I'm responsible for training a new hire, who -- lucky me! -- is an absolute beauty and a joy to work with).  Still, I continue my work on Rosenkreuzstilette during my off-hours, and my days off allow me to focus and make much quicker progress than the days where I'm forced to juggle my duties.  Playism, WOMI, and Valve are doing their part in preparing RKS for its Steam debut, so my current circumstances thankfully don't have any impact on the original game's official release.

Onto today's developer diary!

I've just completed the Game Over screens for Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel, making this the perfect time to post about the Game Over screens for both games.  I don't want to spoil the surprises in the sequel just yet, so I'll be concentrating on the Game Over references in the original game for the time being.

Without further ado:

Prologue: Murder on the Mississippi

A chronicle of the adventures of Sir Charles Foxworth, Murder on the Mississippi was only released on the MSX2 and the original Famicom in Japan.  In the English-speaking world, the game was only released on the Commodore 64, the Commodore 128, and the Apple II.  In this reference, Lilli plays the part of Sir Foxworth's faithful assistant Regis, mourning Spiritia's untimely death with Regis's signature "if only we could start over, we might be able to catch that villain...".  I made a point of using the iconic font from the original Commodore 64 version to further reinforce the reference for truly old-school players.

Racing Lagoon
(PlayStation)
Freudia Stage: Racing Lagoon

It feels like only yesterday that Squaresoft was experimenting with every game genre under the sun. Dubbed a "High Speed Driving RPG" by Square, Racing Lagoon was a racing game for the original PlayStation that never saw a release outside of Japan.  The brushwork capital "R" in this reference is an undeniable nod to the game's cover art and title screen.

As I'm pleased to see many of you notice, I pay very close attention to detail in my work; I make a point of using the original fonts in each of the RKS references where I can.  This practice applies not just to the Game Over homages, but to all of the graphics in the series.

Zorne Stage: Super Bomberman Series

In the early '90s, if you had a Super Nintendo, a Super Multitap, a few extra controllers and a copy of Super Bomberman or Super Bomberman 2, you could easily turn a get-together into a gaming party that lasted all night.  It's a shame that only the first two Super Famicom titles were ever released in North America; the games were extremely fun, to say the very least.

Since this Game Over reference didn't contain any English text, no changes needed to be made for the game's official English release.

Trauare Stage: Demon's Crest / Gargoyle's Quest

The winged demon in this Game Over reference is clear nod to the title screen of Demon's Crest for the Super Nintendo (released as Demon's Blazon in Japan).  The incantation, on the other hand, is a nod to Gargoyle's Quest for the original Game Boy.  Both games are entries in the Firebrand trilogy, a series of spinoffs set in Capcom's Ghosts 'n Goblins / Ghouls 'n Ghosts universe.

Although I was quite proud of the cleanup work I did for the fan-translated version of this reference, nothing quite beats having the original Photoshop files to work with.  I experimented with using the original Ghosts 'n Goblins series font for the English version, but the font was too big and weighty to look presentable.  Instead, I opted to use a thinner, lighter font that preserved the feel of the original Japanese version and didn't make the composition heavier than it needed to be.

Luste Stage: The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil / S.T.U.N. Runner

Ah, Touhou Project: the sleeper hit that launched the Japanese indie game craze in addition to creating its own genre of shoot 'em ups.  The sight gag here is pretty self-explanatory to Touhou fans, recreating the cover art for The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil with Luste taking the place of Flandre Scarlet.  Although WOMI claims that the "Insert Coin" text is intended as a reference to S.T.U.N. Runner, I think the text is just a bit too generic to credit to any particular arcade game.  Oh, well...

Unlike the rest of the graphics in the game, this particular reference was drawn by Isemiya instead of WOMI.  Although I don't know the circumstances of their breakup (nor do I intend to ask), I can safely say that WOMI no longer possesses the original source files for this reference.  That being the case, I fine-tuned the version from our fan translation for use in the official release instead of rebuilding the graphic with officially reconstructed materials.  I'm particularly proud of how this one turned out; all of the German and Japanese text is translated and typeset specifically to match the appearance of the Scarlet Devil cover art.  I can safely say that this graphic would look very different if Touhou was given an official physical English release.

Final Fantasy Legend II
(Game Boy)
Grolla Stage: Final Fantasy Legend II

Known as SaGa 2 in Japan, I remember borrowing this Game Boy title from a friend of mine back when I was in high school (I don't think I ever finished it, though...).  This was one of the few Game Over references that I decided to completely rebuild from scratch instead of cleaning up the original Japanese graphics and inserting the English translations.  I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.  For the official release, I decided to expand the reference a bit to further underscore the shout-out and make it more faithful to the source material.

If you're interested, the Nintendo DS remakes of Final Fantasy Legend II and III have been fan-translated into English under the names SaGa 2: Legend of the Relics -Goddesses of Destiny- and SaGa 3: Champions of Time and Space -Shadow or Light- (what a mouthful).  To the looks of it, they're of the same caliber as the 3D Final Fantasy IV remake.  Good stuff.

Sichte Stage: Jojo's Bizarre Adventure

Although I'm not a fan of the Jojo series myself , I have to admit that I enjoyed searching through digital copies of Viz's manga release to pinpoint the exact panel being referenced by this sight gag.  I'm already quite proud of the English rendition I created for our fan translation (rebuilt from scratch, no less).  Even so, the revised version just feels right on so many levels.  I'm kind of amused that Spiritia takes the place of Terrence T. D'Arby, a.k.a. "D'Arby the Player".  In both cases, the player loses the game.

Liebea Stage: The Tower of Druaga

Amusingly enough, my introduction to The Tower of Druaga was its 2008 anime adaptation, The Aegis of Uruk, which lampooned the original arcade game for its obtuse design and frustrating level of difficulty.  I can easily understand why the title is so reviled among old-school gamers.  Like the Super Bomberman reference, this reference contains no text, so no changes were needed to prepare its official English version.

Schwer-Muta Stage: Space Invaders

This arcade classic has since become the face of Tommy Tallarico's Video Games Live tour.  Though the game never really appealed to me, I can't deny its impact on the medium.  For the fan-translated version of this reference, I decided to rebuild the graphic from scratch to correct a minor oversight: the 30-point alien sprite contained two blocks that weren't supposed to be there.  When WOMI passed me his source files of the official release, I made a point of deleting those same blocks to ensure that the alien sprite was perfectly faithful to the arcade original.  If that makes me a hairsplitter, so be it.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure
(Manga - Viz Media)
Zeppelin Stage I: ActRaiser

Known as Actraiser in Japan (no, I have no clue why they felt they needed to change the capitalization), this Super Nintendo platformer / God-game hybrid was one of the many games I would have passed over if not for the likes of amateur YouTube reviews like Joey DeSena's 16-Bit Gems.  Since the game had an official English release, localizing the Japanese text with an appropriate font was a piece of cake.

In ActRaiser, the player is referred to as "The Master" or "Sir " in the manual and game respectively.  In our fan translation, I had Eins's dialogue match the manual ("Mistress Tia"); for the official release, I decided to follow the game's lead instead ("Lady Tia").  In both cases, I tweaked the frame of the text window a bit to further reinforce the reference.

Zeppelin Stage II: Dragon's Lair

A nod to the NES adaptation of the game rather than the original arcade game.  The Engrish typo in "Closs" in the original reference always bugged me, and I made a point of correcting the typo in our fan translation.  When WOMI provided us with the original layers for this graphic, a sudden burst of inspiration prompted me to rebuild the interface portion of the graphic.  Looking back, I think the Extra Life and Cross Tank icons are just a bit too big, but other than that, I'm satisfied with the results.

Zeppelin Stage III: Shadowgate

Like Murder on the Mississippi, Shadowgate is a point-and-click adventure game originally made for Western computers and was later ported to Japanese consoles.  The game was considered quite a success, spawning several sequels and even a Kickstarter-funded remake.  If you've played the visual novel parody Hatoful Boyfriend, you may recognize the title's Bad Ending screen as a bird-themed take on Shadowgate's Game Over screen.

Rosenkreuzstilette's nod to Shadowgate is very true to the original, casting Thanatos Seyfarth in the role of the Grim Reaper.  Observant players may notice how the reference subtly lends you a hand in defeating Thanatos, featuring which weapons are most effective against the wraith in the player's inventory.  For the English versions, I rebuild the graphics from scratch yet again (as you've likely figured out by now, I enjoy doing this for 8-bit and 16-bit titles).  For the official version, I expanded that list of "Goods" to include all of the weapons effective against Seyfarth (in the off-chance that your Mana supply for his two primary weaknesses is exhausted).

Zoo Ball
(Super Famicom)
Zeppelin Stage IV: Ninja Gaiden

Here, RKS pays tribute to one of the hardest video game series of all time, Ninja Gaiden, with Nightwalker Zeppelin assuming the role of protaognist Ryu Hayabusa before his climactic battle with Jaquio.  It's interesting to note that, from Zeppelin's point of view, his actions are entirely justified (not unlike the General in Megaman X4).  But I digress...

I was on the fence about whether I should localize this reference in the style of the NES original or the Super Nintendo remake; in the end, I decided to stick with the original.  WOMI is smacking himself upside the head over the fact that, if a player is going through the game for the first time and loses all of their lives before reaching the Zeppelin, this reference technically spoils what should be a mid-battle twist.  Oh, well -- those of us familiar with Castlevania saw that twist coming anyway...

Iris Stage I: Zoo Ball

Known as Dolucky no Kusayakiu (Dolucky's Baseball Turf) in Japan, this Coca-Cola-sponsored anthropomorphic baseball title was going to be released in English under the name Zoo Ball.  Unfortunately, this never came to pass; the game was unceremoniously cancelled for reasons unknown.  That's a shame; though I'm not a fan of sports games, I did enjoy my time with the Japanese version of the game.

This particular Game Over reference is a nod to the game's training mode.  If your training goes badly and you fail that session's objectives, Dolucky's coach will make a lighthearted jab at you before encouraging you to give it your best shot next time.  For the official English version, I retooled his dialogue to sound more like what a good coach would actually say in real life.

Iris Stage II: The Legend of Zelda - Link's Awakening (DX)

Sitting majestically atop Mount Tamaranch, the Wind Fish's Egg the reason for the English name of the level's boss, the Deviled Egg.  Interestingly, this reference is a nod to both incarnations of the Game Boy's first The Legend of Zelda title.  The monochrome palette is a definite callback to the original Game Boy release, while the clouds around the mountain's peak are only found in the Game Boy Color re-release, Link's Awakening DX.

Naturally, nothing special needs to be done to this reference for the English release.

Time Stranger
(Famicom)
Iris Stage III: Time Stranger

The video game adaptation of Studio Madhouse's 1986 animated feature, Time Stranger was only released on the Japanese Famicom by Kecmo (the same developer behind the NES version of Shadowgate).  Though no English versions of the film or game were released prior to our original fan translation, I'm pleased to report that several fansub groups have released English translations of the film since that time.

Of all of the localized graphics in our fan translation, the English version of the Time Stranger reference was the one that I was least satisfied with.  I'm very happy to say that, for the official release, this one deserves to be recognized as the Biggest Improvement.

Final Stage: Megaman Zero 2

It just wouldn't be right if a Megaman-style game didn't make at least one of its shout-outs a nod to the Blue Bomber or one of his many spinoffs.  Like the Shadowgate reference, this Game Over homage offers a subtle hint regarding how to take care of Iris (provided you chanced upon the secret of the Black Forest earlier in the game, of course).  Again, I opted to rebuild the graphic from scratch for the English version, and I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.

Aside from these seventeen references, I may or may not have hidden additional references in the game's code.  I cannot elaborate on what I did or where to find them -- it'd spoil the surprise to talk about it before the game's even out.

The next entry will be the last entry focused on the original Rosenkreuzstilette.  After that, the blog will move onto covering Freudenstachel material. Is there anything you'd like to know about the original game before it finally hits Steam and Playism?  If so, leave a comment below and I'll try to include the answers you're looking for in the final installment of the RKS Developer Diary.

See you then!

Monday, August 1, 2016

RKS Developer Diary #12 - Your new name is "Mid-Boss".

Hi, everybody!

Things have been pretty hectic on our side of the pond lately.  Our work on the original Rosenkreuzstilette is more or less done.  Now that we finally have our hands on the sequel's source code, we've finally begun working on Freudenstachel in earnest.

As you may have noticed, a good chunk of the responsibilities for RKS fell squarely on my shoulders.  I penned the final version of the English script, localized the graphics, reprogrammed the game engine to properly support English text and optional subtitles, you get the idea.  It wasn't a one-man show by any means, but I did assume a disproportionate amount of the work.  And the result of that thoughtless decision?  Whenever anything happened that prevented me from working on the game for any reason (illness, hardware failure, problems at my day job, family emergency, and so on), our forward progress was halted until the matter was taken care of and I was able to work on the game again.  I became what we refer to within the industry as a "bottleneck".  As you can imagine, a few members of the project staff were less than satisfied with this state of affairs, and with damned good reason, too.

Moving forward with Freudenstachel, I'll be reprising my role as the resident graphics editor and programmer, but I'll be leaving the polishing of the script in the hands of my good friend Xander (who also handled the casting and directing for the English voiceovers until we were asked to put the English voice project on hold).  TrickMasterMint and DekuKirby are reprising their roles as well; we've simply reorganized ourselves to remove any bottlenecks and optimize our manpower.  You can rest assured that it's still the same team working on the English version of Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel, so please continue looking forward to our finished release.

Onto today's developer diary!

This time around, we'll be having a look at the major enemies in the game that block your forward progress, but aren't quite on the same level as the bosses we shone a spotlight on last time.  Like pretty much every other enemy in the game, Isemiya named each mid-boss in his commented code.  Some of the names he chose are appropriate, while others have understandably been retconned by the sequel:

The Great Hydra
Trauare Stage

Japanese:  「大王イカ」
English:  "Great Hydra"

The "Great Squid" in Japanese, we have two objections to preserving this name as the official English moniker.  You probably didn't expect a company named "Darksquid Media" to veto a squid reference, huh?  Well, for starters, this boss doesn't look like a squid at all; it's more of a many-headed sea serpent.  Second, I'm sure you can agree that there's only one character worthy of the title of "Great Squid" in the RKS series - and his name is Zeppy.

On that note, if you'll excuse a quick tangent: a few fans have speculated that Zeppy may be a reference to "sepia", the German word for cuttlefish (an aquatic mollusk loosely resembling the squid, one bearing distinctly-shaped eyes).  The English language adopted the word to refer to the characteristic reddish-brown color of its ink.  We looked into the etymology of the word to see if it justified changing 「ゼッピー」's name to "Seppy", and the verdict was a unanimous "no".  Word of God aside, the voicing mark on the 「ゼ」 makes it abundantly clear that the name is pronounced with a 'z' sound and not the 's' sound of "sepia".  Second, our favorite squid's ink is black, not sepia-toned.  Third, Zeppy does not possess the cuttlefish's signature W-shaped eyes, so he's definitely not a cuttlefish himself.  In the end, the evidence presented wasn't compelling enough to warrant changing a name we've grown to love.

On the flip side, reclassifying this mid-boss as a hydra reinforces RKS's link to the Castlevania series (namely, through Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles' remake of Rondo of Blood).

Back on topic: the hydra is a well-known sea serpent from Greek and Roman mythology.  In some versions of the story of Hercules, the Hydra of Lerna grew two new heads whenever one was cut off, leading many to believe that the creature was immortal.  It is for this reason that a certain clandestine organization in the Marvel universe named itself after the mythical beast.  Curiously, only more recent versions of the hydra myth claimed that the monster was capable of regenerating its heads...

Leviathan, the namesake of Trauare's spear as well as the Megaman Zero character she pays homage to is a great sea serpent in Norse mythology.  However, the Leviathan has a single head.  As fitting as it would be for Trau's signature polearm to be named after the beasts in her domain, the reference just doesn't quite match up.  Oh well...

Vishnu
Grolla Stage

Japanese:  「ビシュヌ」
English:  "Vishnu"

Though it looks nothing like Him, this skeletal totem is named after the All-Pervading One from Hindu mythology.  Vishnu has many incarnations, including Rama and Krishna.  He is part of Hinduism's Holy Trinity alongside Brahma and Shiva.

You may be surprised to learn that 1) my mother is Hindu, and 2) my younger brother's middle name is Vishnu.  Since the first time we watched another of my brothers play through Final Fantasy IV and VI, we've always been amused that Squaresoft decided to put a spin on Shiva's gender despite their titles featuring a long line of handsome, effeminate men (amusingly enough, said brother's middle name is Shiva).  Yes, Shiva has blue skin, but He is the father (not mother) of Ganesh, another Hindu deity you may recognize (Ganesh is featured prominently in Dhalsim's stage in Street Fighter II).

In any event, I like many of the incarnations of Shiva within Final Fantasy as well as the look of RKS's Vishnu, even if they aren't mythologically accurate.

Snail Tortoise
Sichte Stage

Japanese:  「エスカルゴ カメ」
English:  "Snail Tortoise"

A clear nod to Escaroo from Megaman 4.  Going solely by its environment, Snail Tortoise ("Escargot Kame" in Japanese) could very well be mistaken for a terrapin.  For those of you who aren't aware of the difference: turtles are aquatic animals and tortoises are land-lovers, while terrapins prefer to live in swampy areas like sewers and marshes.  All three species have evolved different physical features appropriate for their preferred habitat.  However, the mid-boss's domed shell and lack of webbed feet show that the creature is a tortoise that decided seek shelter from the rain.

As for why its eyes are able to detach from its face...  Well, that's most likely a nod to the source material, with a bit of artistic license thrown in for good measure.

A Lone Homonculus
Iris Stage III

Japanese:  「ホムンクルス」
English:  "Homonculi"

The Fullmetal Alchemist fans among you should instantly recognize the term "homonculus" (plural: homonculi) as the name for synthetic human beings created by alchemy (a hybrid of science and magic).  Fittingly enough, homonculi are described in the third manifesto of the real-life Order of the Rose Cross, Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz ("The Chemical Marriage of Christian Rosenkreuz").  The Swiss-German philosopher and occultist Paracelsus described at length the steps necessary to create a homonculus, which include (among other things) nourishing a man's sperm with human blood for 40 days and nights before implanting it into a horse's womb.  Ugh...

Referred to as 「ボスラッシュ ドクロボット」 ("Boss Rush Skullbot") in the game's code, RKS's homonculi are undeniable references to Skullbot K-176 (frequently mistranslated as "Doc Robot") from Megaman 3.  Like their skull-faced counterparts, the homonculi adopt the abilities of prior bosses.  Unlike K-176, however, these synthetic humanoids also take on the likenesses of the characters whose abilities they possess.  This detail is an important point in the plot of Freudenstachel, which may explain why WOMI decided to retcon the creatures' name.

Well, that's all for now.  Xander and I will be attending Otakuthon in Montreal this weekend (August 5-7).  If any of you are in the area and wish to say hi, leave a comment and we'll see if we can work something out.

See you later!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Passing the Torch...

My old Compaq Presario CQ50 and
my new Asus Rogue GL752VW.
Hello, everyone!

It's been pretty eventful on our end since the last RKS Developer Diary.  Our release candidate for Rosenkreuzstilette has been submitted, and the DRM-free version of the game is ready to go.  Our publisher, Active Gaming Media, wishes to release the game simultaneously on Steam and on their Playism portal.  I can appreciate why they'd want to launch both versions of the game at the same time and fully support their decision; I ask that you be patient while they get everything sorted out with WOMI and Valve on their end.

Shortly after the release candidate was finalized, the time had finally come for the Compaq Presario I've been using for the past seven years to retire.  As you may recall, I've been having problems with this machine since last November, when its hard drive failed and delayed the project.  I've since replaced the hard drive, but a new problem arose that I hadn't anticipated.  Whether due to the new hard drive's specs or the laptop's age, its cooling system couldn't keep up with my typical workload.  It's a good thing I've developed a habit over the years of hitting Ctrl+S every time I make a significant change to my work; the emergency shutdown would kick in every time the machine's internal temperature hit 145° Fahrenheit, forcibly terminating everything until the machine had sufficiently cooled down.  I could pop the laptop in the freezer for ten minutes to quickly cool it down and resume my work after a short break (and did so on many an occasion), but the condensation and the effect the rapid temperature change had on the laptop's power supply port placed a hard cap on just how many times I could do that without causing permanent damage to the motherboard.  So, sensing that the end was nigh, I gathered up all of the change in my Tip Drawer and used that as the budget for my new laptop.  Good thing I'd been saving my spare change for the past 2 years!

With some help from my ex-girlfriend's father (I'm on very good terms with my ex and her family) and a lot of extra legwork, I tracked down a worthy investment.  The time between my order being finalized at NCIX and Purolator showing up at my door was less than 48 hours (yowza!).  Too bad I was at work at the time and had to trek to the middle of nowhere to pick up my parcel on my next day off.  To that end, I am immensely grateful that my weekends are Monday and Tuesday -- I wouldn't have been able to pass by during their opening hours if I had the standard Saturday / Sunday weekend.

Having finally had a chance to play around with my new toy (or, as my ex's dad put it, "feel her up"), I'm very pleased with my new Asus ROG ("Rogue") GL752VW.  It came preloaded with Windows 10 Home, and I'm quite happy to see that our release candidate of RKS worked straight out of the box without the need for any additional tweaks.

Speaking of RKS:  today marks the seventh anniversary of Rosenkreuzstilette's English language debut.  Yes, our English fan translation was released today seven years ago.  It would have been nice to have the official English release coincide with this milestone; it's a bit of a shame that things didn't quite work out that way.  Oh well...

It'll take a little while for me to migrate my stuff over from the Presario to the new Rogue.  In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions you wish about the upcoming English release.  There's still a bit more material for new Developer Diary entries, so let me know what you'd like us to shine a spotlight on next.  For the sake of keeping a few things a surprise, I won't be showcasing all of the Game Over references (though I wouldn't mind doing a text-only version with just a handful of screenshots to illustrate the differences between our fan-translated versions and our official ones) and I won't be going over references in the English script itself.  However, I can go over the German in the spoken dialogue, the subtle changes we've made to some of the stage backgrounds, look at the names of the midbosses and minor enemies, as well as a few other things that aren't coming to mind at the moment.  If there's anything you're curious about, leave a comment and let me know what you're interested in hearing about.

Until next time!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Meet Luste's Namesake

Hello, everyone!

Sorry for not chiming in on your questions in the comments as quickly as I should.  It's crunch time at Darksquid Media, and that unfortunately means our free time is practically nonexistent.  That, coupled with my browser's inability to stay logged in whenever I try to reply to a comment, forced me to let lingering questions fall by the wayside.

In any event, our first release candidate for Rosenkreuzstilette should be ready before the week is out.  Whether there are any issues left that necessitate a second revision will depend on how big a list of requested fixes we receive from the playtesting crew.  Big publishers believe in waiving "known shippable" bugs, but I don't.  At least, not as far as localization programming bugs are concerned -- if that part of the list isn't zero, that means I haven't been doing my job well enough.  Issues present in the original Japanese version will be considered on a case-by-case basis (i.e.: if we can fix 'em in a timely manner, we will, but if it'd delay the release by a month or two, we'd rather try and address 'em after the fact).

In the meantime, here's a video that Luste fans should be able to appreciate.  Enjoy!