The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

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Gear
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The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#1 Post by Gear » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:43 pm

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The Demo
Ready to try it out? The Time Stones has been in development for years now, and with the aid of our last IndieGoGo campaign, we managed to acquire all the assets we needed to create this high-quality demo, a vast improvement over the original version we tested a couple of years back. We've got a version for Windows users, and another version for Mac users.

All constructive feedback on the game is welcome. Please note the "Honest Critique" button in the signature. If you like the game and want see it come to fruition, would you consider donating to the cause, or spreading the word?
Changes from the old demo
Some of the changes from the original demo we tested a couple of years ago include:
  • Revamped characters (slight personality tweaks, and all of them have been aged)
  • Full and partial voice acting added.
  • Gage's Chapter 2 was completely revamped.
  • Brand-new, cel-shaded, higher quality sprite work.
  • Added backgrounds and CGs by Uncle Mugen and Card-Queen respectively.
  • Improved UI interface.
  • Saguaro's journal system has been fully implemented.
  • Multiple side characters added.
About the game
The Time Stones centers around five college kids who are swept away to another land, different from their own. The laws of physics still seem to be in place, but nothing looks quite the same. The world is rocky, devoid of human life, and only the presence of fish and a few trees seems to indicate the existence of life at all. The kids don't know why they're there, how they got there, or how to get home, but they have to learn to cooperate to survive. Compounding their problems is the fact that they're being hunted...and don't know it.

While the primary antagonist seems to be a mysterious figure, the kids fight each other, and themselves, far more than any generic villain. If there's anything that will kill them, it's likely to be each other.

This is an adventure title that is driven primarily through character development. Each character has a unique individual plot, and they will grow and change as the story progresses. The game keeps track of what decisions you make for the first 19 chapters; in Chapter 20, the character with the most points in their favor becomes the main character, and their storyline unfolds in front of you. Their specific demons come to light, and the other characters play important roles in helping them grow to become a better person. Additionally, a sixth character is introduced whose identity varies depending upon the character spotlighted in Chapter 20. This character serves as the final challenge to full development, forcing the individual to face whatever demons they've been hiding for so long.

Other elements include a science fiction-based plot, and minor romance. The spotlight character has the option to 'bond' with other characters based upon their sexuality and the number of points they've accumulated. The game has BxB, BxG, and GxB, but no GxG due to the characters that were created for the story. Each of the characters is extremely in-depth, with their life stories already written long before the game starts.
Development
The story itself was started in 1998. The original prototype for the story was far more fantastical; through a joint effort of three writers (myself included), we crafted the beginnings of a story involving three kids who get pulled into another world full of massive creatures hunting them and befriending them. As one of the writers dropped out in 1999, the story was scrapped. A slightly more SF-style story was crafted in early 2000 with a group of four writers, which soon grew to five. The story was revamped to remove the mystical creatures in favor of genetic horrors. The story was slowly written until 2004, when one new writer was added, and three of the four original writers dropped out, giving written consent for the story to be continued in their absence. It continued to be slowly written by the remaining two writers until 2008, when it went on hiatus. In 2011, the story was rebuilt from the ground up, to include new characters and alteration of personalities (the originals were a bit extreme in their tropes), and a slight revamping of the plot to add more mystery and less action. The largest change was the switch from a standard novel format to a VN. The result is the WIP you see before you.

The characters are the main focus of the story, with the setting serving as a catalyst to their development. In other words, the setting is there mostly just to evolve the various characters. The characters are listed in no particular order below, as all characters can receive equal spotlight depending on player decisions.
Characters
Image
Ethan Huýnh
Likeness: Phillip O’Donnell
Voice: Victor Aguilar
Ethan is a snarky, cynical technophile who seems to have better relations with people from a distance. He comes from a broken family, and has a terrible temper as a result. He studies medicine in college, and is knowledgeable on a broad spectrum of subjects. He’s also physically fit and a well-rounded fighter, thanks to Damian.

Image
Damian Cruz
Likeness: Gustavo Lugo
Voice: Ian Fox
Damian is a bit of a womanizer at first glance, but don’t let that stop you from getting to know him. He has the strength, skill, and experience to put down threats to safety, but will always try the peaceful approach first. This philosophy is often lost on the not-so-evenly-tempered Ethan, but Damian doesn’t let that stop him from trying to be a good influence. He prefers to be comic relief during stressful situations, but his humor isn’t always well-received.

Image
Xander Rankin
Likeness: Bryan Clayton
Voice: Patrick Smith
Xander is a politician through-and-through. With a senator and a councilwoman for parents, he was constantly inundated with political machinations, and he quickly learned to follow in his parents’ footsteps. He’s won several elections in high school, and even won his first College Student Government presidency, but there’s always been rumors that he doesn’t really fight fair. The same could be said for his eternal opponent Raven, who “steals” as many of his victories as he earns through the years.

Image
Raven O’Neil
Likeness: Chiye Green
Voice: Jeanna Lue
There are no questions when dealing with Raven. Everyone else in this story is quick to buffer difficult situations (or sometimes provoke them) with sarcasm, but Raven has always been a straight-talker. It’s this honest-to-a-fault trait that’s won her several elections, sweeping the rug out from her rival, Xander. They hate each other with a passion, and Raven makes it very well-known. She cares for people, but severely lacks trust in anyone, and often comes off as constantly angry.

Image
Gage Trent
Likeness: Anthony Gallion
Voice: Wes Davis
Gage is quiet and reserved. His name is well-known in local art shows, but not his face, as he rarely attends showings. He prefers a quiet life of painting, sketching and watching. He has an eye for analysis, and can spend very little time around someone before picking up on subtle cues that betray a person’s motives and personality. He tends to stick close to strong personalities like Raven, and sometimes Ethan, but hates Xander almost as much as Raven does.
Download Links
Demo for Windows users
Demo for Mac users

Once again, all constructive feedback on the game is welcome. Please note the "Honest Critique" button in the signature. If you like the game and want see it come to fruition, would you consider donating to the cause, or spreading the word?
The best reason to get up in the morning is to outdo yourself: to do it better than you've ever done it before. But if you haven't done it better by nightfall... look at your globe and pick a spot: it's always morning somewhere.

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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#2 Post by Obscura » Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:14 pm

Wow, this was one of the first games I played back when I was a more active LSF member, and needless to say, I've been waiting for this for a while! :) So it's nice to see how this is progressing!

Looking through the demo (I've only had a chance to play Ethan's route at the moment) here are my thoughts:

What I really liked:
1) The writing is solid. Intelligent without being long-winded.
2) The story pacing and progression. They encounter one problem/challenge after another, so things keep moving without any lulls.
3) The characters have conflicts that are interesting. They're full of life, seem like actual people, with distinctive voices. They're very easy to empathize with.

What I didn't like:
1) The typefaces and GUI. This may be a personal thing, but it was driving me crazy. I feel like you need to choose fonts that complement each other and the current selection almost seems random.
2) Dark blue on grey for Ethan's thought is a bit hard to read. (It also wasn't apparent to me those were his thoughts initially, and I was confused. But that's a minor issue).
3) While the improvement on the sprites is huge (and major kudos to you for that!) I feel like they still don't quite live up to the quality you've invested in the writing. There are strange shadows on Raven's bikini sprite, for example. And some of the line work is still jarring. Just my .02!

Overall, I really liked the story and think it has a lot of potential, but the art could use some fixing. Don't get me wrong -- I'm excited to see all the improvements that have been made -- I just want to see the project get the attention it deserves!

And a question: Is there some way you can have more than once character on screen during a conversation? Or there a reason why only one character can be on the screen at a time?
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#3 Post by Gear » Thu Jul 17, 2014 7:28 pm

Thanks!

I chose to only have one character on the screen at once because of other VNs I've played. It was mostly with dating sims set in Japan from other members, but they would show 2-4 characters on the screen at once. Characters would be named, for example, Takeshi, Hikari, Musashi, and Akari. When they'd talk...I had no idea which one was which. Hikari would start talking, and I would wonder, "Is that the dude on the left, or the girl on the right?" and there were no visual indicators.

There were other ways I could have solved the problem, I suppose, and I think my characters are extremely distinct to help prevent that kind of problem, but I didn't want to risk it. I like having one character on the screen in most scenes so the player puts all their focus on that character, and I think it acquaints them better with each character's voice.
The best reason to get up in the morning is to outdo yourself: to do it better than you've ever done it before. But if you haven't done it better by nightfall... look at your globe and pick a spot: it's always morning somewhere.

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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#4 Post by Obscura » Thu Jul 17, 2014 9:23 pm

Oh, okay, thanks for the explanation!

*btw-just to clarify above, I didn't mean to say the GUI as a whole was driving me crazy. It was specifically the font choices. Sorry I wasn't more clear.
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#5 Post by Gear » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:08 pm

Are you talking about the main font, or the journal fonts?
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#6 Post by KittyKatStar » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:42 pm

Oh, yay, new demo! Downloading. It's been so long, but I really enjoyed the first demo and I look forward to seeing the new changes and revamped features. ^_^
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#7 Post by philip » Fri Jul 18, 2014 12:24 am

Just downloaded and played through. Very nicely done - have bookmarked the topic and will follow the progress - hoping for more updates, of course!

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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#8 Post by Obscura » Fri Jul 18, 2014 9:39 pm

Gear wrote:Are you talking about the main font, or the journal fonts?
IMHO all the fonts (main journal, character name, main text, etc.) clash a bit. Again, it might be just a personal thing of mine though.
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#9 Post by Hijiri » Sat Jul 19, 2014 9:17 pm

Ok, time to delve into this. Been curious about it.

Interface:
-I second Obscura's comment about the fonts. It looks really ugly. Pick a font or two and stick with it.
-The hover image for Start Game and Credits seems to be different than the ones for the others. That, or you've used too dark of a color for them. It's jarring when compared to the brighter ones.
-The bars in the Settings menu seem to have their offset wrong since they nudge to the side. Unless that was the intention in order for us to know which one's we're hovering over. If that's the case, ignore this complaint.
-Also, you may want to add a selected idle and selective hover image for the navigation, just so we know which menu we're on.
-Since you're using a widescreen format, I suggest you add some more padding to the sides of the textbox.
-The text in the pause screen shouldn't be cut off like that, makes it look quickly put together. Make the rhombus bigger but keep that style you have it in and it'll look nicer.
-Try and make the selection buttons bigger, or make your own.

Presentation:
-Very professional introduction, but that puts a high expectation for the rest of the game.
-Might want to find a way to transition easier from the menu to that first choice. It's jarring.
-Transitions for the sprites might be good too. Even a quick dissolve would look better.
- http://puu.sh/aiMcJ/138becb8cd.jpg Increase the padding between the lines.
-Keep the text colors to the namebox, or use a brighter color.
-The CG image is jarring when compared to the rest of the artwork.
-Maybe for scenes where Gage is doodling, add writing sounds so we don't thing the game has locked up.

Story:
-The prologues and the banter that follows the plain introductions Damian gives us do better of introducing the characters than Damian's narration. Show us their traits, don't give us a laundry list.
-Are the questions Damian asks Ethan simply to show off Ethan's knowledge?
-Along with that, I assume that from earlier dialogue that Damian isn't the brightest person, so seeing words like succinct in his dialogue is straight out of left field.

Overall, my interests are piqued. A bit more work should be done on it though.
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#10 Post by Gear » Mon Jul 21, 2014 8:41 pm

Hijiri wrote:Interface:
-I second Obscura's comment about the fonts. It looks really ugly. Pick a font or two and stick with it.
Fair enough. I can make all the typed fonts the same, but since the journals are handwritten, I don't think I can make them look the same without people thinking Gage wrote the mystery journal.
-The hover image for Start Game and Credits seems to be different than the ones for the others. That, or you've used too dark of a color for them. It's jarring when compared to the brighter ones.
I'll look into lightening them up.
-The bars in the Settings menu seem to have their offset wrong since they nudge to the side. Unless that was the intention in order for us to know which one's we're hovering over. If that's the case, ignore this complaint.
I probably have them set wrong. The UI stuff really doesn't cooperate with me sometimes.
-Also, you may want to add a selected idle and selective hover image for the navigation, just so we know which menu we're on.
Acknowledged.
-Since you're using a widescreen format, I suggest you add some more padding to the sides of the textbox.
Not sure I understand.
-The text in the pause screen shouldn't be cut off like that, makes it look quickly put together. Make the rhombus bigger but keep that style you have it in and it'll look nicer.
I need to look into having it redone. The person who created it in the beginning suddenly vanished from LSF and stopped talking to me. Someone else added in the Main Menu link since we'd forgotten it the first time, but they couldn't recreate the whole screen without it looking different from the rest of the UI.
-Try and make the selection buttons bigger, or make your own.
The menu options, the imagemap menus, or something else?
Presentation:
-Very professional introduction, but that puts a high expectation for the rest of the game.
Hoping I can live up to it, honestly.
-Might want to find a way to transition easier from the menu to that first choice. It's jarring.
I see what you mean.
-Transitions for the sprites might be good too. Even a quick dissolve would look better.
As far as I know, I should have a transition on every sprite show/hide. Are there places it's missing, or am I misunderstanding your comment?
- http://puu.sh/aiMcJ/138becb8cd.jpg Increase the padding between the lines.
Again with my artist issues. That particular artist disappeared a few months ago, never to be seen again...
-The CG image is jarring when compared to the rest of the artwork.
Most of the CGs are going to be redone to match some of the newer CGs that were made. I know for sure the CG in Gage's prologue is particularly variant.
-Maybe for scenes where Gage is doodling, add writing sounds so we don't thing the game has locked up.
Good idea.
-The prologues and the banter that follows the plain introductions Damian gives us do better of introducing the characters than Damian's narration. Show us their traits, don't give us a laundry list.
Ah, exposition, my second greatest weakness after environmental description. I'll try to make it flow better, but I'm not sure I can show things like Ethan being gay without it being directly addressed.
Are the questions Damian asks Ethan simply to show off Ethan's knowledge?
Partially that, partially to get the player thinking, really. The conversation is in-character for both Ethan and Damian, so I think it helps cement some of their character traits a little.
-Along with that, I assume that from earlier dialogue that Damian isn't the brightest person, so seeing words like succinct in his dialogue is straight out of left field.
Damian is something of an intelligent ditz. He doesn't always think things through, but he's relatively book smart. Because what would have been the stereotypical jock and the stereotypical nerd have become best friends in this story, each one takes a bit from each other. I'll try to make it less jarring, though, perhaps tone down the ditzy behavior in the beginning.

Thanks for the critiques, everyone!
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#11 Post by Gear » Mon Jul 21, 2014 8:43 pm

Wanted to respond to these when I was free. I finally have some time! XP
Obscura wrote:What I really liked:
1) The writing is solid. Intelligent without being long-winded.
2) The story pacing and progression. They encounter one problem/challenge after another, so things keep moving without any lulls.
3) The characters have conflicts that are interesting. They're full of life, seem like actual people, with distinctive voices. They're very easy to empathize with.
The majority of my goals in the writing. Glad to hear it.
What I didn't like:
1) The typefaces and GUI. This may be a personal thing, but it was driving me crazy. I feel like you need to choose fonts that complement each other and the current selection almost seems random.
I'll work on standardizing them.
2) Dark blue on grey for Ethan's thought is a bit hard to read. (It also wasn't apparent to me those were his thoughts initially, and I was confused. But that's a minor issue).
I'll try lightening the text. Any ideas on how to make it more clear that he's thinking?
3) While the improvement on the sprites is huge (and major kudos to you for that!) I feel like they still don't quite live up to the quality you've invested in the writing. There are strange shadows on Raven's bikini sprite, for example. And some of the line work is still jarring. Just my .02!
I'm trying to steadily improve, but I still am a terrible artist, so it's going to be a work in progress for a long time, sadly.
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#12 Post by Hijiri » Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:27 pm

As far as I know, I should have a transition on every sprite show/hide. Are there places it's missing, or am I misunderstanding your comment?
Look through Ethan's Prologue.
I'll try lightening the text. Any ideas on how to make it more clear that he's thinking?
It's common to use Italics for thoughts in most books.
Fair enough. I can make all the typed fonts the same, but since the journals are handwritten, I don't think I can make them look the same without people thinking Gage wrote the mystery journal.
Its fitting for the journal, so need to change that one. But the rest should be looked upon.
Not sure I understand.
The padding is the space keeping the text away from the edges of the screen. Increase that spacing a bit. YOu may have to break up some lines though.
The menu options, the imagemap menus, or something else?
The choice options that come up at times. Like in the tutorial when we're asked questions.
But I'm not sure I can show things like Ethan being gay without it being directly addressed.
True, but you can probably come up with something subtle. Even the implication is enough to get us thinking in that direction.
Damian is something of an intelligent ditz. He doesn't always think things through, but he's relatively book smart. Because what would have been the stereotypical jock and the stereotypical nerd have become best friends in this story, each one takes a bit from each other. I'll try to make it less jarring, though, perhaps tone down the ditzy behavior in the beginning.
Ah. that makes sense. Yeah, that should work.
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#13 Post by Mad Harlequin » Thu Jul 24, 2014 12:26 pm

Hijiri wrote:It's common to use italics for thoughts in most books.
I wouldn't call italicized thoughts common, though they're certainly out there. It's important not to overuse italics for thoughts, though.

From Self-Editing for Fiction Writers's chapter on interior monologue:
And whether or not you are writing with narrative distance, it's not a good idea to cast all of your interior monologue in italics. Since long passages in italics (or, indeed, any unusual typeface) are a pain to read, you can only use this technique for passages no longer than a short sentence or two [...] Also, since generations of books have used italics to punch up otherwise weak dialogue ("I have just about had it up to here with your get-rich-quick schemes!"), frequent italics have come to signal weak writing. So you should never resort to them unless they are the only practical choice.

This is a pretty handy guide I just found:

http://www.novel-writing-help.com/chara ... ughts.html
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Re: The Time Stones [Adventure, SF, Character-Driven]

#14 Post by Gear » Thu Aug 21, 2014 9:39 am

I'm still looking forward to hearing from more of you. Let me know what you think of the writing, art, interface, or anything else.
The best reason to get up in the morning is to outdo yourself: to do it better than you've ever done it before. But if you haven't done it better by nightfall... look at your globe and pick a spot: it's always morning somewhere.

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