An Idle RPG that Tries to Teach Players How to Program:Interview with the Lead Developer of SSRPG

Author: ThirtyThree
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Indienova: Thank you very much for the interview. Please introduce the development team to us. How did this team form?

Standardcombo: Martian Rex began as a solo studio, growing to include contributions from more than 40 talented developers from across the world. Gabriel Santos (standardcombo), lead developer and original creator, first imagined Stone Story RPG as a completely different project. It was more of a comedy space game with guns, very different from the dark, fantasy RPG it is today.

Indienova:Stone Story RPG (SSRPG) is a story about a series of stones, could you please introduce the worldview and setting of this game briefly?

Standardcombo: SSRPG is set in The Dark World, a somber realm bathed in eternal moonlight. It is a strange land with even stranger mysteries, filled with monsters and magic of all sorts. Tasked with uniting the 9 Soul Stones and restoring the light, your journey take you across eight interconnected locations, from the deep Caves of Fear to the freezing peaks of Icy Ridge. Each location has its own story to tell, each one part of the larger puzzle known as The Dark World. Drawing from different influences like classic computer games and religious mythology, The Dark World is a developed character in its own right. Complemented by stylish minimalist visuals and modern game design, players will discover that this game goes deeper than they first think.

Indienova:SSRPG is not very wordy, but we can see the unique sense of humor and irony all over the game, is there any messages behind the whole story that you want to send?

Standardcombo: SSRPG aims for a balance between darkness and humor. Silly creatures like talking trees and singing frogs exist alongside menacing beasts like the titanic skeletal monster, Pallas, the Skinless. We've opted for a structure where the main arc focuses on game mechanics and is light on words, while the Legend quests do the heavy lifting in terms of character development and dialogs.

Beyond what's written, the story is also the game's mechanics, as these narrative elements are stitched together in non-conventional ways. The experience of the player as they discover, learn and unlock new gameplay, is what drives the fun and is a major dimension of the story.

Indienova:SSRPG chose retro ASCII art:

1) Why did the team choose this highly distinctive but relatively niche art form?

Standardcombo: Stone Story’s ASCII aesthetic began back in 2013 as a result of seeing the browser game Candy Box. Creator Gabriel Santos felt that ASCII art was abandoned and decided to pick it up as a hobby. At first, he studied and emulated ASCII styles of artists from the 90s until it matured to form an original style and a full game concept.

Abstraction is powerful. There’s an inherent draw in the idea of abstraction that garners the player’s curiosity. An incessant need to pull on the thread, to be connected to an idea purely because of how alien, yet familiar it is. Our brains are clever. If they recognize enough of a shape they can immediately reference its real-world equivalent. That constant undercurrent of discovery and forming connections, that is what is at the heart of Stone Story RPG.

Candy Box

2) How did you make the ASCII art animation?

Standardcombo: SSRPG’s animations are a mix of text symbols and automation. Most of the artwork is done in a plain text editor, where animation frames are typed (there's quite a bit of copy/pasting). This follows a traditional animation process: Search for visual references, draw keyframes, calculate animation length, then draw the inbetween frames. The results are text files with all the animation frames, in vertical sequence, similar to a sprite sheet.

To efficiently draw the game on your device's GPU, the final rendering employs a custom font, with scripts and shaders that convert the text into 3D geometry.

3) How do you like the art performance of SSRPG?

Standardcombo: We have observed that the game's unique art style has appeal not only with older gamers, for the nostalgic value, but also with younger players, who have never seen anything like it before. The high contrast of black and white, as well as the symbolic nature of the designs allows Stone Story to stick out from the crowd.

Indienova: As we know, SSRPG has been in development for several years before EA:

1) How did the design inspiration of the game come about?

Standardcombo: Stone Story takes inspiration from a wide array of media. Sometimes it can be a single character design, other times it's a background, environment, theme, structure or game mechanics. When you try to merge together such different ideas they struggle to combine. It's through the exploration and iteration of combining these ideas that we arrive at a novel and unique experience.

The list of media, sorted by influence: Diablo, Candy Box, Link to the Past, Clash Royale, Dante's Inferno (Poem), Dark Stalkers, Little Alchemy, Frog Fractions, Mario, Summoner's War, Prince of Persia 2, A Dark Room, Samsara (Buddism/Hinduism), Temple of Doom (movie), Crystal Quest, Grim Fandango, DotA, Starcraft, D&D, Alien (movie), Poetic Edda, Lord of the Rings, Magic: the Gathering, X-men (comic), Snow White (Disney feature).

2) Could you introduce the whole developing process for our readers?

Standardcombo: It would be hard to condense 9 years of development into a few paragraphs. Generally speaking, we employ the usual process that starts at conceptual research, flows into UI mockups and prototypes, then iterates through playtesting and finalizes with polishing and bug fixing.

Stone Story has a staunch focus on first-time user experience (FTUE) that permeates through all game systems. This is one of the game's key differentiating factors. It's the "gameplay story" mentioned earlier. This approach also allows us to develop the game incrementally, where we can introduce the first phase of a system, then add an upgrade later, that unlocks more complex actions. We can have an initial vision of the complexity, but then we need to be realistic about development time, trimming down a system to its fundamental parts, leaving some of the wish-list items for a later upgrade.

Something we can't forget is our use of data to drive design decisions. We track anonymous gameplay statistics that tell us how players are engaging with the different systems. Based on this data we are able to identify bad spots where players are struggling and giving up, or we can use the data to help decide which areas of development to prioritize, based on how the changes will impact players. After all, we have limited time and manpower, with far more ideas than time to create them. We combine artistic and scientific methods in qualifying ideas, subsystems and their impacts.

Another development trick we employ is to purposefully leave open threads, both in story, but also visually in the backgrounds. For example, there is a hidden object that can be seen behind the waterfall. Originally it was intended as part of the FTUE for a pet/mount system. However, that system has since been discarded. Instead of removing the hidden wall decoration, we left it there as a hint of future development. We plan to use that in a quest and expand the world. There are many such open threads in Stone Story. We are constantly using existing threads to expand the world, at the same time that we open new threads.

3) Can you introduce the workload distribution of the entire development process, how much percent of Gameplay, story, art, music, etc.?

Standardcombo: Systems engineering, such as the recently added cosmetics system, take the majority of the work, as there's a lot of design, UI and bug fixing. Systems that manage data and interact with crafting take a lot of work to arrive at a stable point where they are functioning as designed, while not breaking anything else.

The second most costly area are Legend quests. They take a lot of writing, custom animations, level design, audio and scripting. We also like to tie the quests with special items, each of which then require a sequence of goals in the R&D book. One thing leads to another– it's a lot of parts that have to come together perfectly.

4) Could you share some interesting stories during the development?

Standardcombo: One interesting thing that we’ve seen is how often players will tell us that they learned how to program in SSRPG.

The game features an original scripting language called “Stonescript,” which empowers players with the ability to have deeper control over animation, combat, and other in-game elements. Stonescript is easy to understand for beginners, but possesses a rich level of complexity that allows for diverse player mods.

The SSRPG community has had a significant impact on the development and use of Stonescript. As we worked to refine the language, we would regularly host community-driven scripting jams (multi-day community-focused events where players created scripts for SSRPG based around certain themes). Whether it's pets, minigames, or giant flying robots, the players continue to surprise us with their creativity in Stonescript!

Indienova:SSRPG can be divided into two parts: (1) Experience the story, master the mechanism. (2) Idle and keep challenging. What experience will these two parts bring to players? Which part is relatively more important to the game design?

Standardcombo: Players can expect a continual stream of curiosity and exploration, of both the world and of unfolding gameplay, along with a deepening sense of accomplishment as they meet new characters, achieve goals, unlock new systems, complete quests and craft an epic arsenal of weapons.

It really is all the things together that make the game what it is. The exploration of story and mechanics combines with the idle dimensions. Those areas complement each other to form the entire experience.

Indienova: Why did EA take such a long time?How did SSRPG improve over the past 4 years?

Standardcombo: When Stone Story entered early-access in 2019, we didn't know if we'd be able to take the game all the way to its ultimate form, as envisioned. Could we add the Legend quests? Lost items? Pets? Could we do a mobile port? There is so much uncertainty in game development, but with the help and support from the community we have pushed along and added all the things we dreamed of.There's a lot more to explore and to build.

Indienova: What is the biggest difference between SSRPG and normal Idle games except art?

Standardcombo: Stone Story blends different genres together. While it has some aspects of an idle game, it combines those with quests, dialogs, combat simulation, crafting and inventory management that are inherited from RPG, strategy and auto-battler genres. Additionally, it includes the Stonescript language that allows players to, optionally, venture into further automation and customization. Stonescript is the window to modding, where players can create and exchange scripts that add pets, hats, minigames and more.

Indienova: We super like the programming gameplay in the late game, how did this idea come about? And how did other players like this gameplay according to the EA feedback?

Standardcombo: For the main story arc, the player is tasked with gathering the 9 Soul Stones. For each of those items we wanted to ascribe a unique game-changing system. Turns out 9 is a large amount of new systems. In brainstorming with the community, one of the ideas (from our "idea bag") was a simple scripting language where you could automate the main character, allowing it to reach super-human level of combat performance. Players loved the idea, and Stonescript was born. It's a minimalistic programming language that is incorporated into the game. We ended up using Stonescript to create all of the Legend quests, so it's a fairly powerful language.

During early access we've organized several game jams (StoneJams). In these events players use Stonescript to create fun new add-ons for the game. Submissions win prizes and the best ones get added directly into the game. For the top scripts we have gone as far as to credit the players in the game's main credits.

Indienova: So What the best one is?

Standardcombo: We don't really rank winners at the jams, but Okamiroy is one player who has created a series of excellent minigames, one at each jam.

Those are the mini-game names:

There's recreations of the classic Snake and Asteroid games as well, but other players (I started the Asteroids game, then one player completed the project).

Similar story with Blackjack. One of our engineers started it, then a player took up the project and completed the mini-game, with touch controls for mobile.

There's minigames that take up the entire screen, like the ones by Okamiroy, but some minigames layer on top of the main SSRPG game and can be played simultaneously, such as Blackjack and Sword game.

Indienova: Generally, Idle games need to provide new objects constantly to keep players' interest, so:

1)What is the game length approximately at now?

Standardcombo: With more content added through Early Access, the core SSRPG experience takes around 10+ hours to complete. Legend quests expand that by a week or two. Post-game content adds countless gameplay time, as players can climb higher difficult locations and continue to improve their arsenal.

Additional content added after launch will give visitors to The Dark World even more to explore!

2)What other updates and new contents can we expect in the future?

Standardcombo: Players can look forward to new narrative quests, harder difficulties, new weapons, and even more game mechanics. Stone Story is feature complete and ready to launch out of Early Access, but we’ve got a lot of ideas we’d love to have the chance to implement! As we settle into a full global release across mobile and PC, we can spend more time looking at the larger roadmap ahead for the game.

3)Will SSRPG be a "Live Service game"?

Standardcombo: It depends on how successful we are with the full launch!

The game has been adapted from its PC release with some key UX differences for mobile, but players can still expect the full Stone Story RPG experience. In-app ads and purchases are available for players who would like to supplement their progression.

While there is already content that will be added after launch, we have even bigger plans in mind that could see SSRPG growing even further.

Indienova:SSRPG features reasonable equipment build, so why did the team design just two equipment slots? What are the main considerations of this design?

Standardcombo: This choice of two slots reinforces a key aspect of the game, which is that you are supposed to change equipment all the time. To succeed in the dark world you will ultimately need an arsenal of dozens of well-crafted items, all working together.

For some players, depending on their conditioning from other RPG games, this can be a difficult transition, as there are many games where you build a single loadout, for all situations, and keep improving it. In Stone Story, despite only two equipment slots, you need many different items, and you use them all! This restriction of two slots helps us teach players about the value in swapping their gear in response to changes in the enemies they face.

As with all parts of the game, we've taken a minimalistic approach to equipment. Two slots are enough to provide players with complex and meaningful decisions. We didn't want equipment that don't appear visually on the character (such as rings or necklaces), as it's most satisfying when your equipment choices appear on the character and are fully animated. That said, we have planned for an accessory slot that will unlock when you find the Faerie– a helper character that follows you around and can carry a small item.

Indienova: As developers:

1) Are you satisfied with SSRPG's performance now?

Standardcombo: Yes, but we could always do bigger and better! Over this past year, we’ve brought SSRPG to different parts of the world, and people from all over continue to tell us how much they love our game. Every positive review, every new player from a new country, all of these things show us that SSRPG’s story is only just beginning.

2) What do you think is the key to make the game live longer?

Standardcombo: In the 9 years of development, we have honestly spend most of that time developing the "early game"-- the first week or so of the experience. To make the game live longer we must now spend some time expanding and polishing the late-game. If a player decides they'd like to spend years with Stone Story RPG, we need to cover for that. This will be our focus over the next few years. Ultimately, when we are done with Stone Story RPG, we plan to release it as an open-source project, so developers can take it wherever they'd like.

3) What is the hardest part during developing an indie game? And the most fulfilling part?

Standardcombo: The hardest part of creating a game is to not let yourself be distracted by other projects. There is always a shiny new idea that for some reason feels like it's better than what you're working on currently– illogical. Some people get attached to ideas, but in reality, ideas are very cheap. Ideas come and go. Write down your ideas, but realize that what's actually important is the implementation.

The most fulfilling part of game development is to take an idea and bring it to life. It is the process of imagining something that doesn't exist and through hard work delivering it to the world. Seeing players having fun, playing your game, that is a real treat!

Indienova: Is any new work plans in the future like new titles?

Standardcombo: Definitely. Within our team we have a limitless supply of brilliant game ideas that we'd love to bring to life. It's hard to say which one will come first, but soon we begin the next project. Don't expect it to be an ASCII-art game, however (well, maybe, who knows!).

Indienova: Thank you for this interview again.

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  1. Donnieane 2023-11-30

    that good

    最近由 Donnieane 修改于:2023-11-30 14:57:46

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