This is the twentieth weekly blog post here on Something Classic’s website. We’re also closing in on two years of development time on our main project, Shadows of Adam. How time flies!
In light of these arbitrary time markers, I thought now would be a good time to look at the earliest phase of this project. During the initial few months of this project, a variety of gameplay elements, design, and ambitions were completely different than the project as it exists today.
The Original Project
Like many projects I’ve been involved with, there was not a whole lot of structure or ambition early on. Our team was even smaller than it currently is, and our only intent was to do a fun hobbyist project to get back into working on projects together again. The initial goal of the project was to create a simple 8-bit style RPG in the style of Final Fantasy 1, including selectable character classes, a Gameboy Color inspired aesthetic (even so far as using the Gameboy’s 160×144 resolution early on), and chiptunes galore. Our target platform was to be mobile: Android and iOS.
As a small team of 2, we proceeded to create early prototypes in this very retro style. The original battle system was much more text based, did not feature any on-screen protagonists, and featured a bland white background much like early Pokemon games.
With these parameters in mind, the basic menus, shop system, message box system, and battle system were eventually completed. Tim, who was an old friend of Tyler’s, helped us get up and running with some basic tiles and helped coach our then-artist Matt on some pixel art skills. Our project was getting some structure in place. We frequently had Skype voice meetings in which we sketched out character profiles and began forming a basic plot line that seemingly resembled Final Fantasy 1.
I have always liked the idea behind the much-maligned Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: an easily digestible RPG. While that particular game arguably had a very flawed execution, some of its choices were of considerable interest to us early on.
The plan was for the game to have field items much like FF:MQ (or more famously, Zelda). These were to include bombs, a machete, and even a bow and arrow. These items would have served two purposes: clever puzzles in major dungeons, and accessing areas that were previously inaccessible.
The other key element we agreed upon early on was avoiding random encounters. All enemies must be visible on screen, and touching them initiates a battle. For some reason, this seemingly essential design choice is absent from a vast majority of retro jRPGs.
Around this time, we began writing the almighty Design Document. The Design Document was to be the holy covenant of this project, laying the precise blueprint, parameters, goals, aspirations, hopes, dreams, and plot outline of this project. Deviating from the Design Document was punishable by death. Creating the document was very, very important and helped codify a lot of project details we still adhere to today. Even if it’s no longer followed to the letter, the Design Document is the foundation for any game development project, and its importance cannot be understated.
The game as we had conceptualized it was an 8-bit style jRPG with heavy influences from Final Fantasy 1, Gameboy Pokemon entries, and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. What a weird combination, huh? While intriguing, we quickly found that it was not meant to be…
This early phase of the project was short-lived. Our original artist Matt left the team due to time issues, Tim became a full-fledged member, and we began narrowing our focus a bit. The extreme retro aesthetic began to be ditched in favor of a larger resolution, more detailed battle backgrounds, a (slightly) more pleasing menu skin, and actual instrumentation vs. computerized bleeps and bloops.
The character class system was axed, in favor of fully developed characters who existed in pre-defined roles. As time moved on, we also dropped the (admittedly cool) field item mechanic, in favor of more ad-hoc dungeon puzzles. The bland “save the crystals” plot line was fleshed out significantly, resulting in a much more dynamic set of characters and an interesting game world.
In continuously refining our project early on, we gained a great deal of focus that enabled us to create the project you are seeing today. At the same time, however, the scope and feel of the game had drastically changed during this shift.
Here and Now
While the basic gameplay systems and plot skeleton were ultimately preserved from this time period, the early phase of the game almost feels like a completely separate project in retrospect. It taught us the importance of focus and working to our strengths. Rather than heavily emulating a handful of games, we began to find our own style. What began as a low-production value, mobile minded game without much planning has evolved into something completely different. Any game is going to go through a variety of changes along its path to completion, and Shadows of Adam is no different.