History of World's End, Part 7

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I had been playing strategy RPGs for quite a while. In spite of myself, I bought a Sega Genesis at some point in the early 1990s, and I distinctly remember renting Shining Force II — probably my first foray into the genre.

I must have rented Ogre Battle half a dozen times (I suppose it leans more towards being an RTS than a proper SRPG, but whatever). I played the hell out of the AD&D Gold Box games, experiencing the joy of casting Stinking Cloud upon 2×2 grids of orcs in full 16-color EGA glory.

In later years, I became a fan of Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, and enjoyed the GBA Fire Emblem games in particular. Do the Advance Wars games (or whatever iteration of Intelligent Systems’ sadly canceled “Wars” series) count as SRPGs? Well, they’re close enough, and I liked those too.

Thus, when Crack asked me if I wanted to create a strategy RPG, I felt at least vaguely versed in the trappings of the genre to agree that yes, indeed, venturing down the skeezerly alleyway of SRPG development would be a fine thing to pursue indeed.

Crack recommended that I have a look at Tactics Ogre — one of the high points in the genre that I hadn’t yet checked out. (For unclear reasons, I barely touched Knight of Lodis, and wound up playing Let Us Cling Together pretty extensively instead.) Apart from the tedium of throwing rocks at my own party members for the first two hours to level up, I found the game to be excellent and rather inspiring.

So back to the World’s End aspect of all this mess, since that’s what you’re here for, right? Crack had the programming acumen, and I had a story. So what do we do with all this? Well, my first step was to write an utter mess of a “design document” laying out my story synopsis, interspersed with ideas of how I thought the battles might play out.

“The story begins with two travelers, Ysabel and Tevoran, camped out on the outskirts of Urbach’s domain, waking up to the sound of an enormous explosion nearby. As they go to investigate they are waylaid by some mercenaries led by a Voronese captain.”

By this point, late in 2005, my story had settled into something mostly recognizable as the current plot of World’s End, apart from a handful of rather glaring differences, some of which I’ve noted before. Ivan’s connection to Tevoran and Ysabel remained one of these; here he’s still a Voronese draftee who flees the army after being tasked with a certain unpleasant mission.

I really had no idea what a massive undertaking creating this game would be. Crack had a great deal of experience in Flash already, and planned on creating the game engine with all its constituent parts within that framework, completely from scratch, yet keeping in mind certain limitations that had been demonstrated in existing SRPGs at that time.

I myself was still locked in the RPG Maker mindset, just throwing out strange ideas for battles, and not fully considering how things would function programmatically, nor the massive amount of custom art that creating the whole pile would entail.

For example, in the second battle of the game, rebellious Ivan flees from his erstwhile comrades into the clutches of a very suspicious Tevoran and Ysabel. When the Voronese pursue, Tevoran, former Spymaster of Vorona and exiled fugitive, is more than happy to use force against them.

This is all well and good until we get to the part where the battle involves the Voros driving around some kind of primitive tank. To make the battle interesting, I posited that the vehicle could potentially be destroyed, or not, resulting in a slightly branching plot path where the characters either drive to Setora and avoid the Voronese camp, or walk there.

The design document I wrote up was full of this sort of thing. Playing all these tactics games, I was irritated by the limited interaction with background elements, puzzled about how most of them dealt with corpses (or didn’t), curious about the lack of multi-tile units (Gold Box series aside), etc.

I wanted to include all this and more, but didn’t realize that there are good reasons that such elements are constrained by most games in certain ways. I’m barely a programmer so I won’t bother with a half-assed explanation of the challenges presented by even such “simple” things as including permanent corpses. Needless to say, many of my ideas proved totally impractical to implement.

As the artist/writer, I was gradually forced to be pragmatic about the realities of game development from that perspective. Why does no unit in World’s End ever wade in water, for instance? It entails far more time-consuming work than one might guess, without much real payoff in game terms. Branching plotlines were shelved for similar reasons. Hey, there’s only two of us!

Reading my design document from that time presents me with such an “uncanny valley” version of World’s End that it’s making me ill. Nonetheless, I’ll persist in detailing this game’s sordid history, and next time, you may even get to see the first glimpses of my mouse-drawn Flash art...


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