Psychopomps Are Missing Progress Report for March 2022

Hello, and welcome to my third progress report for Psychopomps Are Missing, the RPG Maker MV game I'm currently developing. This is a quarterly report about the progress I've made towards completion of the game. If you want updates more frequently than that, I recommend subscribing to the $5 tier at my Patreon, as the diary entries at that tier include updates if I've worked on the game that day (along with information about other projects I've got in the works). I've also started releasing videos on YouTube about it, which you can watch here.

As my measures for determining when the game is complete are no different than what I laid out initially in the first progress report article, I recommend checking it out if you want to know how I am determining the completeness of Psychopomps Are Missing. Also, to avoid repeating the same thing over and over again, I'll mostly focus on what has changed since the previous article, so at least giving it a glance will help with context. And now, without further ado, let's get into it!

So, What's the Current State of the Game?

As is to be expected, the game is still very early on in development. Like in the previous article, I'll start by discussing the state of the core mechanics, then I'll go over each region. I have made some progress in figuring out the characters' personalities more as part of adjusting a system that was previously in place, but not producing the results I wanted, so I'll also touch on that extremely briefly. The game's introduction still needs revision once the game is further developed. For now, I've reduced it so that I don't have as much dialog to mash through when testing. Overarching story elements will eventually warrant their own sections, but that time is still quite a ways away in the future!

State of the Core Mechanics

For clarity, I'm going to use a list. These elements are in no particular order.

  • Classes are in an overall satisfactory place at present. There will, of course, still be a need for balance tweaks (more on some tweaks under evaluation below).
    • Since the previous article, I've assigned character classes elemental rates (their weaknesses and resistances to the nine damage types) and affinities (their effectiveness when using each of the nine damage types).
    • I've also made three of the four classes that you have to unlock available earlier on (if you meet the criteria). As I've moved to speed up the rate at which you develop your classes (for various reasons), I've found that not being able to access these classes until after Ashdala could result in you running out of class development to do until you'd progressed the story far enough, which I felt was a poor play experience.
  • Core battle mechanics are overall in a fairly solid place now with a few notable exceptions.
    • A big issue that can happen is combat becoming tedious when armor becomes too strong, because it results in too little danger to the player (and thus interest) or fights becoming slogs.
      • I think the way to address this from the enemies' side is to make sure I make enemies that can handle higher armor values. This can include skills that debuff defenses, armor ignoring skills, and health degeneration effects.
      • Players generally have access to tools that can help with this, so it's up to them to identify them and use them well.
    • Another current problem is that healing is too strong. I believe this to be the result of a few overpowered skills and items, however, so it won't require a system's change to fix. There are a couple of class skills in particular that I want to address, as I'm beginning to think that they're too powerful.
    • Relatedly, I want to adjust how I'm handling mana. It's easy and cheap to heal in the Pocket Dimension (which I want!), but because this healing fully restores mana, it makes mana-based attrition pretty ignorable in most cases. I'm not entirely sure what I want to do about this at the time of this writing, but adjusting the mana return of various equipment effects (and food) while decreasing the amount restored by the healing device in the Pocket Dimension are likely changes for me to make.
    • Element rates are a big place of change. Your element rates are multipliers that affect how much damage you take from each of the nine damage types. I'd realized that a lack of consistency in this regard made figuring out enemy weaknesses and resistances to damage types hard to do. As I want the element system to be important to this game (like how Pokémon's elemental system is important to that one), I realized I needed to find some way to make figuring out—and, critically, remembering—element rates easier to do. I did five things to address this.
      • I introduced 30 Enemy Types. Technically, one of those is a placeholder for future use. These enemy types will be assigned to every enemy (up to two per foe), which is how they'll get innate element rates now, instead of having rates assigned individually. This will give consistency when it comes to determining element rates.
      • All classes have element information (as previously mentioned). This matters both for the player as well as any enemies that have a class.
      • I introduced 20 armor material types. These are things like metal, cloth, and mithril. They'll provide consist element rates for player characters and enemies who use armor, since I'll be using them instead of assigning rates to armor on an individual basis.
      • I've modified the UI for select enemies to show type information. This makes it easy to identify which enemy type(s), class (if present), and armor type (if present) an enemy has, thus enabling the player to make more informed decisions. At least, this will be the case once I've finished making all of the armor and enemy type icons.
      • I've added the ability to reveal approximate enemy rates in combat. The user interface for enemy type information can change to show relative element rates. This change can be triggered by effects on both the enemy and player characters. Notably, I've added a scanner item that the player can use on an enemy to toggle this state on for that specific enemy. Jimothy's unique skill, "Tunnel Vision," also does this at present, which I've found makes it a very useful skill indeed!
      • Note: Exact values for the types and classes may change if I feel results are undesirable at present. This could be because I feel like certain types are too disadvantaged as attack types or the system's results are too murky to be understood, as a couple of examples.
  • I wrote last time that, "adding locations to the Crossroads of Reality/Pocket Dimension Portal is in place, but needs a bug fix (there's a notification that pops up when you unlock a new area that resets itself on zone transition)." I have tried to fix this bug, but the fix meant that the popup would not properly go away if you left the triggering map too quickly. I've tried to fix that bug, which has made it harder to cause, but it can still happen, so I've got some more fixing to figure out.
  • I wrote last time that, "Abyss Gates have had no mechanical work on them. I am placing the image I'm using for them in various environments around the world, but they don't do anything yet. Note that the Abyss Gates are currently planned to be functional when you rescue 30/100 missing psychopomps." This is still accurate.
  • Equipment concepts are in an overall satisfactory place.
    • There are some effects on individual equipment that may need to be modified, of course!
    • I've also added the idea of armor materials, as mentioned above.
    • I've created a more formalized concept for armor strength. This is based primarily on average armor capacity values (how well each class can wear armor), though it does take the damage formula into account as well. I've created an external program to help me with related calculations.
    • Notably, I've adjusted equipment slots! Player characters now get two accessory slots and four ring slots (instead of one of each). You can't equip two of the same type of accessory (for example, you can't equip two belts) or two of the same ring (for example, you can't equip two Rings of Resilience). There are a few more details to this system, but this is good enough for a high level overview.
      • My playtesting thus far has shown this to be a very good change!
    • I've assigned Enemy types to Magical Cards that are assigned to the armor slot.
  • Enemies now have character stats. (For more on character stats as a concept, see the previous article, linked above.) This system has several benefits, such as the ability to create effects that modify character stats that the player can use against enemies and the ability for enemies to effectively use equipment that affect character stats.
    • I've also added a system to give enemies a randomized spread of character stats when they're instantiated. This means that any given enemy will vary slightly from other foes. As this system is fairly similar to the concept of Individual Values (IVs) from Pokémon, I'm using the same name, since that fits nicely in my brain.
      • I can also set dynamic maximums for IVs for each enemy type. For example, the boss in the Dolfy region consists of six fragmented parts that all must be defeated. My initial concepts for these enemies involved them getting progressively stronger, as each one has a unique skill that the others can use when it's defeated. Thanks to IVs, I can also have them each get more IVs the more other parts have been killed.
      • Another way I can use dynamic maximums for IVs is to strengthen enemies based on things the player has done. For example, I'm considering adding a system where enemies get an additional IV point for each psychopomp you've rescued (this would parallel the character stat point the player gets for rescuing that psychopomp). I'm not sure I'll implement this system, but if I find the player outpaces enemies too easily as the game progresses, this is a possible solution that I quite like!
  • I've adjusted the spiritual skills system. This was a system that would randomly assign seven skills to the seven party members, kind of like if you had seven cards and you dealt one each to seven players. A primary goal of this system (aside from getting more skills to players early on) was to provide variance on repeat playthroughs, as this is something I particularly value (both as a player and as someone who has to play my game a bunch in the process of testing it). However, shuffling the skills around only provided minor variance that wasn't to the degree I was desiring. Therefore, I changed the system so that each character has three possible skills they can receive that are specific to them, of which they will be granted only one. This means that you'll see 7 of 21 total skills on any given playthrough. This appears to have introduced the variance I desired, though I've done minimal testing since introducing the system.
    • As a part of assigning the seven original spiritual skills to specific characters and designing the other fourteen skills to give to them, I did need to figure out more details about each character. Specifically, I figured out their high-level character arcs and personalities a bit more, as I want these spiritual skills to be reflective of them in some way.
I think that sums up what I've got to say about the core mechanics fairly well. Note that this section will have a tendency to be volatile in terms of overall contents, since I'll use it to focus on changes made since the previous quarterly report.

State of the World

As a reminder, the world is composed of two hub zones (the Crossroads of Reality and Pocket Dimension) and ten world regions (The Abyss, the Wandering Wood, Ashdala, Avarei, Bowan, the Kingdom of Dolfy, Cybernight City, the United Streets, Ghymnipolis, and the mashup location). Let's go over each of these! Note that what makes for a completed hub zone is different from what makes for a completed world region.

The Crossroads of Reality

This is a fairly small zone that consists of the rescued psychopomps, a portal that can take you to any location linked to the Crossroads of Reality, and Yerovaepern, the only psychopomp to not go missing.

I have somewhat modified this zone. Rescued psychopomps now give you character stat points, and Yerovaepern lets you put those stat points into specific character stats. (You can also refund character stat points for a fee.)

Additionally, I've added some angels that show up here after you rescue seven psychopomps, though I need to adjust them slightly. Critically, one of these angels is able to teach you the Angel class.

I'm also thinking about adding a special crafter here that'll unlock when you rescue enough psychopomps, though no definite plans yet. (Like, the crafter will exist, I just don't know if they'll be here or somewhere else, such as in a special part of The Abyss.)

The Pocket Dimension

This is a primary hub where you can heal up, change character classes, look up class information, buy common items, advance character stories, as well as other useful things. I still need to make individual character rooms, but I don't plan on doing that until closer to the end of the production cycle.

I've added the ability for the ectoplasm collector to teach you one of the unlockable classes once you've progressed far enough through Ashdala. I've also probably expanded her inventory some since the last update, though I've not been keeping close enough track to be able to tell you for certain! I do want to modify her inventory some, though—she sells a lot of Enchantments (an alternate armor type), and I'm wanting to modify how I handle those, so I'll need to make changes accordingly.

I'm also wanting to change how the healing machine works. I'm debating whether or not it should only restore a small amount of mana or if it shouldn't restore any. Again, I'm wanting to make items that restore mana matter more, and making the device not as effective at restoring mana is a good way to do that. To that end, I'm also thinking of doing something to the food replicators in the eating area, since I want food to be a more important part of mana management.

The Abyss

I haven't done anything more with The Abyss than I had previously.

The Wandering Wood

I've done little to the Wandering Woods since last time; I think all I've done was add an NPC. Because I've added a spot to learn the specific class taught here earlier on, I needed an NPC to block early access to the woods themselves. (To be clear, there's a connection between a late Ashdalan map and the Wandering Wood which I'd originally blocked with some hunters fighting a demonspawn, but I added the ability for the player to fight the demonspawn to prove their capability. If successful, they'll unlock the class and the hunters will depart into the woods. However, as I don't want the player actually accessing the Wandering Wood until after Ashdala, I added an NPC to block traversal on the Woods side of the transition.)

Like last time, I still need to add enemies and items to the woods area, and I will want to add some more stuff in the Wanderer's Rest map (details and NPC locations, mostly). I'm also still not sure about quests—I feel like the quest to unlock the locked class is the main thing you'll get here, though give that you'll be able to unlock the class earlier, I am considering adding more rewards to this in case you've done that already (you'll still need to unlock it here if you beat Ashdala before getting it from the early unlock location). However, maybe the big other thing you get (aside from a whopping five missing psychopomps) is access to useful NPCs? Those things might be reward enough.

Also, I may develop other ideas for quests as I work more on the game. In particular, the denizens of Wanderer's Rest have relatively close ties to the Abyss, so as I develop that latter region more, I may want to represent those ties in a more tangible way.

Ashdala

At this point, all of the large area maps are roughed in. I have one final area that I need to make enemies for—the rest are mostly done, though a few still need tweaks. Many smaller areas (such as interiors) still need to be created, and the large areas still need more details (though I have made progress to varying degrees in both regards). Equipment options are getting close to where they need to be, I think—I have one collector left, and then it'll be anything I decide to add for quest rewards.

I've modified chest rewards yet again. As it turned out, having trophies and stuff you could buy as rewards felt bad, leaving chests somewhat underwhelming. I've made more unique gear for them and also dramatically increased the amount of gold they can contain (if you get a raw gold reward). I've also removed trophies (aside from Stolen Trinkets, of course) as possible chest loot, and otherwise adjusted numbers.

I've implemented the effects of the lore changes I mentioned last time. Overall, I like the current structure of the region.

The region's story does need some further fleshing out, but a lot of that will be through side quests. I've added several since last time, though I still need a good bit more to really flesh things out. I also need to make sure to add dialog that gives the player a good sense of what their primary goal is for the region, since right now I don't think I have anything that directs you that way specifically.

Overall, I've made solid progress on the region, though a lot of my efforts have gone towards polishing core systems. It's important to me to have those in place before I invest time on new enemies and gear that I'd just have to go back and update again if I found them needing further changes. My gut feeling is that I'm about halfway done with Ashdala right now, mostly because I need to do a lot more map and quest work.

Avarei

I've not done anything with Avarei since last time, as my priority has been elsewhere. It's still extremely far from completion.

Bowan

I still haven't implemented anything for Bowan.

The Kingdom of Dolfy

I believe that the Kingdom of Dolfy is still more-or-less in the same stage of development as it was in the previous update article, so I won't repeat myself here.

Cybernight City

I still haven't implemented anything for Cybernight City.

Ghymnipolis

I still haven't implemented anything for Ghymnipolis.

The United Streets

I've not done anything further with The United Streets than I previously had done, save maybe an idea or two for items when I finally get to actually working on it. It still has a lot of work to go.

The Mashup Location

Technically, I've actually done something here! I removed the placeholder NPC that unlocked the Angel class for you, since that's now done in the Crossroads of Reality. I've not done anything more, though, so it still only consists of the entry map.

Wrapping Things Up

Most of my efforts over the last three months are so (recording Legend of Zelda playthroughs with my sister notwithstanding) have been focused on fleshing out Ashdala and solidifying the core gameplay and design concepts. There are a few reasons for this! First of all, I want Ashdala to be able to be a demo. I'm designing it to be the first area, and as such, the game is contained there until you finish it. This lets me control the player's experience somewhat and make sure they don't get overwhelmed with too much happening. I also want to get a general sense of what a complete region feels like. Finally, getting core gameplay in a place I'm happy with (along with general design principles!) will make other regions faster and easier to do. If I find I have to redo a system with more things implemented, that just means I have more things that need to be updated. In other words, the more content is in place, the more costly broad changes will be.

Towards this end, I've also been developing some external tools to help me with these processes. I've already made mention of a tool I created to help me with armor. This tool basically allows me to easily and quickly design armor, then copy it to the clipboard to paste into RPG Maker MV. I'm planning to expand it to help me create enemies as well.

Overall, I feel good about the progress on the game. I feel like core systems are slowly but surely firming up, and as they do, I'll be able to focus more on content, like maps, enemies, quests, NPCs, skills, equipment, and plot. Oh, and making icons. So very, very many icons...

Thank you all for reading and for your interest in Psychopomps Are Missing!

Please consider supporting Sientir's creativity and writing by subscribing to him on his Patreon.

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