Millennium 5 is the last episode of the Millennium saga (see the other episodes at Aldorlea Games!). It all started in September 2009, with a young girl called Marine. She wanted to change the course of fate. This is a universal theme, our actions versus fate, this is why this series holds a special place in my heart. And now I’m about to close the book of her story, and it’s quite a daunting task to say the least, because the game will be the biggest in the series. It has to be. People like a spectacular ending, and your goal as a developer is to deliver the goods.
This isn’t my first experience in the matter though, as I already concluded a big saga with Laxius Force 3. This has built a sort of confidence inside me. I just hope I can live up to the fans’ expectations! The most faithful followers can be sometimes the hardest to please, and I understand them. The more you like something, the more your expectations are raised.
So I must roll up my sleeves and get started. The first thing I need to do is come up with a document detailing the different locations the players will have to visit. It’s a cool (yet essential) part that I usually do with a cup of coffee sitting on a relaxing couch. It helps my mind wander off and picture exotic locations.
With the type of game that Millennium belongs to (RPG), players tend to love to explore, so it’s important to offer them locations that will surprise them, pique their curiosity, and make them want to explore. So I write the first area they will explore, then the second and so on, with notes of what they have to do in there, who will be exploring the area.
Keep in mind in a RPG, you play a CAST of characters, not just one. In the case of Millennium, it’s more than 15 I have to manage. Interaction between them must be good and realistic so to immerse players in the game’s world.
Back to the list of locations. Done. It’s usually not the longest part of the game’s development (understatement of the year!)
I have my document and now I must start mapping the areas. It’s a fairly long task, but also a pretty mindless one. I wouldn’t call it hard; you mostly have to have patience and a sense of creativity. Picture it as using LEGO bricks. I typically map all the areas in a chaotic order (although in the game’s structure everything remains organized – a bit like an ordered PC desktop). I map in a chaotic order so to be able to jump from one place to another. It is a good way to deal with a natural boredom that creeps in after working awhile on the same area or set of areas.
Another trick to fool boredom and all the procrastination gang is the use of good music. The more tedious the task, the better the song I need to have in my ears. I can work 3-4 hours intensely with the same song repeating in my ears. It’s actually my best strategy to get the job done fast.
But of course, you can’t rush things. You have to polish every single detail so the maps you come up with (and will present to your players) are interesting, coherent, believable, enthralling, in one word: great. I find it hard to just 100% complete ONE map at a time, so I proceed by “waves.” First wave builds the overall map structure (the foundations), second wave adds a first layer of details, third wave deepens the landscape with more details etc.
Sometimes I have an idea and I need to pause a bit on the mapping to make this idea a reality. For instance lately I wanted players to be able to enter a sort of greenhouse area inside a modern shrine (recurring in the Millennium series). You need to open your paint program and edit until you get something that matches your “vision.” This takes time as well, but hey; being an indie dev is about working, working, working.
Is it work though? I’ve always liked creating. It’s hard and involving, but it’s something I love to do, and I hope this passion reflects in my creations. Making 100+ (sometimes 500+) maps for one game is just one single aspect of the work. It’s crucial, though. You have to make it pretty (so your screenshots look attractive) and detailed (so your maps aren’t bland).
Next time I’ll talk about character creation - another aspect that is canonical in RPG making. A good RPG needs good characters. That’s all I’m going to say for now. See you!