Depression and Community

So I’ve got to be just about the luckiest person alive among western adult game devs.

Earlier this month, I had a pretty gnarly bout of depression. As some of you may already know, I have a mental illness known as dysthymia (also known as persistent mood disorder). It is a form of depression that is usually more mild and easier to deal with. Usually it hits pretty bad about once a month, for only a few days, and I’m able to deal with it and move on. I’m pretty used to dealing with it, plus I have a great support network at home to help me get through when I am feeling down. I’ve been feeling this way ever since I was a child- although I was only diagnosed and able to fit a name to it a few years ago- so this really isn’t anything new.

For whatever reason, this month was pretty bad, and my “down” period lasted somewhere in the neighbourhood of about two weeks. When I enter into one of these depressive phases, I become unable to focus on things for very long, and being creative becomes particularly challenging. Failure is especially difficult to deal with, and finding myself unable to write anything of substance, figure out a bit of logic or code, or even failing to make progress playing video games can shut me down for hours.

“But NoMoshing,” you may find yourself wondering, “If you’re whining about being depressed, why did you start off this blog post saying how lucky you are?”

It’s because of you all. The Harem Collector community has to be one of the most welcoming, understanding, and supporting communities in the western adult game sphere. You’ve always been patient and understanding with me when these sorts of situations crop up, and I am constantly astounded and humbled by your continued trust and support every time.

When I solicited ideas of what to write for today’s blog post on Discord, and awesome fan Sad suggested writing something about the community, this is the first thing I thought of. It is a genuine privilege to have you all as fans, and I hope I continue to be worthy of your trust in the future. You’re all so amazing, and I look forward to entertaining you even more, like always. Thank you.

Backer Topic #4: Auto-Extinctionism

Things are proceeding pretty smoothly. About 50% done a new quest, with a pretty interesting design if I say so myself- I’ll post some screens for Backers when things are a little more complete. Finally getting the sleeping sprites done for Meline and Elaiya, too.

Anyway, on with the show.

Every third quest has you killing a bunch of clockwork nerds, or bandits, or just some royal guards. Often times the worst wars or unrest comes when the population booms. … So is there an in-story reason there is an excess population the hero is helping cull?

You know, I never really thought of that. Probably? That is a lot of dudes- over 300, even without daily quests. An excess population (particularly an excess population of men, though I’ve never heard of the opposite) has historically lead to unrest, war and crime. I never wrote any such thing into the game, though.

I do have a Doylist explanation, though: human antagonists are more interesting to write about.

It’s probably unsatisfying to hear, but most monsters have very simple motivations. Vampire counts and demonic conspiracies aside, a lot of monsters have no dialogue and no motivations outside “protect my territory” and “get something to eat when you’re hungry”. There’s a reason why random encounters exist- hordes of perfectly anonymous monsters in most RPGs that show up, kill or be killed, and have no lasting impact on the story.

Instead of random encounters, combat in Harem Collector is firmly focused on quests. Because each of these quests has its’ own little story, it’s just easier to write around an understandable antagonist. There are a few quests built around other monsters, either incidentally or as minions of a more relate-able threat.

So there’s the simple truth- I put a lot of human antagonists in the game because it’s easier to justify in-story. Sorry that there’s no deep story reason behind it.

Backer Topic #3: Beyond the Veil

First, a quick update. The revamp of the random daily quest is in the bag, and good up to level 20- I’ll try to remember to add new enemies as the content piles up but I think I’ve definitely bought myself some breathing room. The beach vacation event I mentioned elsewhere probably won’t pan out for next update, but I’m hoping to get out a quest or two that will make up for that. There will also be a new harem girl!

Also, I’ve started looking for an artist, considering that I’ve passed the $600 milestone on my Patreon! So if you happen to A) have artistic skill, B) are reliable, and C) are comfortable with sprites, monsters and/or landscapes, shoot me an email with a couple examples from your portfolio and we will talk. This work will be compensated, so serious enquiries only. Just remember to mention “artist position” in the subject line of your email, okay?

Now, onto today’s question…

How permanent is death in the HC setting? How well do people understand the fate of the spirits of the dead?

An excellent pair of questions. Unfortunately, the answer to the first part may disappoint. Much like Final Fantasy 7, death isn’t permanent unless it is. Sorry, but that’s kind of how video games work- you have to allow for small failures, and temporary character death provides both a punishment for allowing your beloved party member to fall, and an extra mechanic (ie, life potions, phoenix downs or what have you) for you to account for while planning your dungeon crawl or overland travel.

The setting, however, feels differently. I’ve always kind of felt that it’s better to leave the specifics in the air. Obviously, the name “Resurrection Potion” and the reference made by the Essential Salts item implies that you’re literally bringing the dead back to life. It would also be in keeping with the setting that such items absolutely do bring back the dead- but only the extremely rich can afford them, leaving a nigh-immortal oligarchy ruling over mortal plebes. Or it could be that such items only bring those who are near death back to functional life, and the names are simply marketing hyperbole.

I admit, I’m deliberately keeping my options open- I want to be able to permanently kill of and resurrect characters to suit the needs of my story, so I’m avoiding hard and fast rules.

As for the dead themselves, they’re not saying anything. Most dead either come back brainless (like zombies, wights and skeletons), come back “wrong” (like vampires and ghosts), or don’t come back at all, instead being replaced by an entirely new entity. Straight, clear answers are not the purview of the dead. Necromancers don’t have any special insight, either, any more than a coroner or a mortician would have. Just because necromancy is what you do doesn’t mean that you understand how it all works.

Official dogma on the subject differs. The Angels refuse to offer a single, unified answer. The Angel of Light and Mercy preaches a kind of reincarnation- good people reincarnate into successively more pure forms (eventually becoming angelic servitors), and bad people are punished by reincarnating as impure ones (like animals, fish, bugs, etc). The Angel of Peace and Comfort suggests that there is some kind of “rest”, maybe not an afterlife per se but an eternal sort of peace and comfort. Of course, the Demons gleefully contradict all this- there is no afterlife, they say, just oblivion, so why not enjoy yourself and indulge in sin during life? But who would ever trust a demon, especially one that is pushing a world view where there are no long term consequences to selling your soul?

So hopefully that long list of non-answers gives you some insight. As for me, I’d better get back to work- deadlines can creep up on your while contemplating the mysteries of life. Until next time, happy fapping!

Backer Topic #2: It’s the Apocalypse Again!?

How do you feel about RPG’s protagonists tendency to save the world? I think “small scale” RPG, where most of the action is limited to one region, could be as engaging as running around the whole world. -Seil

Small-scale RPGs aren’t all that uncommon, I think. The mid-range Ultima games (IV-VI) were generally focused on the affairs of a single kingdom. The Fallout series usually looks at an area the size of a medium US state. Persona 4 (unless the secret ending contradicts me) is essentially a morality play set in a Japanese small town. But I could list examples all day- that doesn’t make for a very helpful conversation, now does it?

Unless you’re talking about very short stories, every tale sooner or later has to raise the stakes. The traditional three-act story structure requires that the fundamental conflict change over the course of the second act, so that the climax feels grander and more important (and more satisfying to the audience) than the first act. The Avengers begins with the initial conflict- Loki has stolen the Tesseract and mind controlled a bunch of SHIELD personnel and is enacting some kind of plot- and gradually escalates to the climax- Loki opens a portal to somewhere in space, and an invasion of alien warriors threatens the entire earth. I won’t bore you with an extended lecture on story structure though- other people have done it better and I wasn’t all that great at college-level English anyway.

What RPGs (and, it seems, JRPGs in particular) often due is focus on increasing the scale of the conflict rather than exploring other ways of raising the stakes. In action movies, things often get “personal” at one point- in the Matrix, for example, the scale of the conflict (ie, freeing the human race from the machines’ control) never really changes, but the climax is kicked off when Neo’s mentor, Morpheus, is kidnapped (ie, something specific the hero cares about is threatened, rather than a broader conflict that is difficult for the human mind to properly comprehend). A few games don’t shy away from this. The stakes are raised in Persona 4 when Nanako is put under personal threat.

Another way to raise the stakes in by sheer exhaustion. To get away from the examples from movies and RPGs, in the first silent Hill game the stakes never really change- Harry is looking for his daughter the whole time, and uncovering the mystery doesn’t really change his driving motivation to find her. But by the end of the game, Harry sounds tired and exhausted, having been through hell (thrice!) and (probably) just murdered his only real ally.  The stakes are raised not because anything about the conflict changes, but Harry’s got nothing left but a hail mary play, going all in with his remaining energy and sanity to end the conflict before the conflict ends him.

Shit, I’m listing examples again. The reason why I think a lot of games decide to increase the scale of conflicts rather than finding other ways of raising the stakes is because spectacle is easier than good writing. Not that there’s anything wrong with spectacle, but it’s far harder to get an audience to care about the small things. A big final boss fight against a dragon is easier than, say, a race against time to save a little girl being used as a hostage. The dragon doesn’t need to be “sold” very hard to the audience- as long as it looks bigger and more threatening than anything else the player has fought, that makes it a climax. Getting an audience to really care about a character, a group, or a region is much harder.

Now, I hope you all don’t get the impression that I hate spectacle, or I think smaller conflicts are better- just because something is more difficult to do doesn’t make it automatically more enjoyable. It’s just that broadening the scale of conflict to raise the stakes is easy, and, to be honest, we’re all still figuring out how to tell stories through the medium of video games. Nobody’s got the perfect formula quite yet, and once that happens, well, I think all game developers will be forced to raise the stakes- on their own writing and plot development.

Backer Topic #1: Recent Influence

How has a game you played recently influenced your dev work on current projects? -Glacier

Because there hasn’t really been a Harem Collector master plan, development has been somewhat unique in that I’ve been able to fit in so much user feedback and follow my own mercurial whim. It’s only very recently that I’m finally nailing down who all the characters are, what the various plot arcs are going to be like, and that sort of thing. However, as this process of the game organically taking shape continues, it means that not a lot of the games I’ve played very recently have had an influence on the project.

Fairy Side is a bit of an exception. Chibi doesn’t do a lot of game design for it- she focuses on plot and dialogue and characters and such- so I actually have a fair bit of freedom when it comes to figuring out the mechanics of the different characters. Very recently Chibi and I were discussing the next two party members that she was going to add to the game, and while she had a very strong idea of how one character would work, the other really didn’t get much more detailed than “cute boy who fights and uses magic too”. The basic idea was that the character would be some kind of spellblade or red mage kind of thing, but she didn’t really know specifically how it would function.

Well, considering that the game already has a tank and a debuffer and Chibi had this really strong idea for a buffer/healer, I knew this character had to be a damage dealer. So, I looked at Dragon Age: Inquisition, and was inspired by the Tempest specialization. So, this character (tentatively called a “tempest swordsman” but that’s not the final name) is an okay vanilla attacker, but is able to enchant himself with various elemental effects to hit for massive damage. Of course, there has to be a reason why you wouldn’t do it all the time, so I cooked up something- when enchanted in this way, the character constantly loses Mana, and when he hits zero he is actually stunned and unusable for several rounds, so you need to pay attention and cancel out before you hit bottom.

As for other projects, Harem Collector 2 is a lot more flexible than HC1 by virtue of being in the concept phase, and I’m letting what I’m playing affect that a lot more. I’ve been playing a lot of Kamidori Alchemy Meister lately and getting influenced by that. For example, I did a write-up and Nekochan did some art for a character that is sort of a mash-up of Kohakuren from that game and one of my favourite pokemon. I also have some ideas inspired by DA:I that I’m going to use for the more management sim side of gameplay.

But actual mainstay HC? Not so much, sorry.

Anyway, sorry for the late post today, I totally just forgot to do a blog post until now. See you next week, and happy fapping.