Sometimes I feel like I should've just written books. Though of course, I'm not a novelist, but simply a screenwriter without a set. Such a conundrum that entangles me!
Admittedly, I'm overwhelmed by the work that remains. E1, while graphically subpar, was an enormous game. E2's visuals, while far from state-of-the-art, are vastly improved, while the game is also huge like the original was. I am one person. I have no team; I am the team. It was perhaps easier to make the original so massive because I didn't care quite so much about how it looked. E2 is a highly experimental sequel, and I've quite enjoyed bringing all my quirky ideas to life (friendships, combos, and attributes, not to mention all the offbeat minigames and cutesy side attractions like monster capture). But the scale is too much, notwithstanding all the bells and whistles, like the many many expressive sprites (hi Maire), facial expressions during dialogue, and those occasional illustrated cutscenes (and some of those aren't even that great, despite the pain it is to create them).
The prime focus has always been on the characters and their development. While I've always enjoyed casually doodling my characters, writing is my true passion. That should be evident. Making sure each full-body illustration is on par with (not to mention physically proportionate to) all the others considerably hampers the fun factor. I never worried about that before I actually started making the games. And it's not just the character art, either. I even made an effort to rein in the size and complexity of the field and dungeon areas, because that's not entirely what the series is about. And it seems I may need to take things a step further. As for the tidied dialogue, that was just the natural process of maturation, me taking hold of that timeless, precious truth: less is more. Except the Party House scenes, they are sacred and exempt from all law.
I guess I'm questioning whether or not all this is actually worth it. And the answer is, probably not. I just had no idea what it would be like. I set the bar too high; I brought too much upon myself. I did very little work on the game this past year. When I was working on it full-time, I nearly drove myself into the ground. Not doing that anymore, I'm sorry. Here's a secret: I instill all that I am into my work, even discreetly via my characters. Like that blurb about Monique having dark circles in the Sketch Gallery. I had ideas for several more cutscenes, but I may or may not follow through on those. I'll probably cut back on the creation of emotive portraits, as well. Believe it or not, I drove myself crazy with some of those. Because even if my work is not artistically elaborate, it is still extremely tedious. And tedium kills the human soul. Now I'm not intending to reduce Elements to a text adventure, but my, that would sure be nifty, wouldn't it?
It's frustrating to admit defeat. But sometimes, it's what you have to do. These newly acquired sensibilities will likely continue into future projects. That's right, as big a baby as I'm making myself out to be while writing this, I still want to bring all my other ideas to life. Just not the way I've done it with E2. For example, returning to the textbox format of the original, without portraits. I don't know that I want to axe the full-body art of the characters during battle, as that would just suck ALL the personality out of the game. But if push comes to shove, it's definitely a possibility. And though it's even older, there's still my beloved Sketch Gallery artwork. Look at what I did with E1, the stunted/chibi caricatures during battle. Yes, they were terrible, but it was a lot less work than what I decided to do with E2. At this point, you may be asking yourself why I'm even doing this in the first place... and that is, indeed, a very good question.
The thing is that I derived great pleasure from writing extensive character biographies back in the Archival era, then developing their personalities through interpersonal communication... all while listening to inspirational music and scratching out some sketches here and there on the side. That was all peaches and cream, sunshine and flowers, what have you. But to take all of that material and translate it into a cohesive (not to mention robust) package is something else entirely. Fortunately I will be able to reuse many graphical resources, like enemies and tilesets, for the rest of the series. I still had some other ideas on that front, and they may well be brought to fruition. But to have such a solid foundation to start is immensely comforting. And to be honest, I feel that I really let my imagination run wild with all the new monsters in E2. I'm very proud of those, all the cute little creatures I created. Anyway... it's more than enough already, is what I'm saying.
You may ask what the heck I've been doing all this time. And my answer would be, trying to figure out just what the heck I am doing. Capisce? Believe me, if you could see the Odyssean scale of the Archives, you would understand my frustration. My work contains every bit of my own heart and soul and is my most precious possession here on this earth. I love going back and looking at my old stories and old art, even if some of it makes me cringe. Some of it actually doesn't make me cringe. It's like looking at baby pictures; it evokes that same fond warmth. I do not want to cheat it out of my best. But if I collapse an inch from the finish line, what is it worth? We all know the story about the tortoise and the hare. Well, for shame, I am the hare. And I suppose it's difficult to adopt the philosophy of the tortoise if you're a hare, but that's what I've been trying to do. Making E1 made me feel like I had no limitations. Making E2 has taught me that I do have limitations. Look at it this way: E1 is one extreme, E2 the other. Now, I have to find the middle ground.
Just what does this actually mean for E2? Well, not a whole lot, like I said, other than cutting down on the portraits and cutscenes from this point on, and continuing to moderate the length of the field areas and dungeons... which there really don't need to be so many of in the first place. They say quality over quantity for a reason, and in trying to encompass the best of both worlds, I bit off far more than I could realistically chew. There were times when I thought my problem was a lack of enthusiasm; well, it turns out I had a little too much from the get-go. I want to remain dedicated to carrying out the remainder of my vision for E2 as faithfully as possible, but I also want to live long enough to see my dreams come true, even if it means downsizing them. Would you believe me if I told you that E2 was already between two and three years in development when I initially released it back in 2016? That's right, we're coming up on seven years for this one as well.
Maybe I dreamed a little too big when I was a kid... but the core of the message is what really counts. Furthermore, I do not want to drag it out so long that I become functionally obsolete. The wonderful Aldorlea Games has given me a lot of hope on that front. In any case, these concessions mainly apply to further installments of the series.
Further installments! Phew, I really have lost it, haven't I?