Devlog #2: She Came from Beyond Our World

Reader Advisory: This post contains spoilers for the Advent Heroes project. Read on only if you’re comfortable with advance knowledge of the story within.

First of all, please accept my apologies for the delay in releasing the second devlog, as I have been extremely busy with real life matters as well as the creation of scenarios for later parts of the game. Anyway, as I stated at the end of the previous devlog I was planning to go further into character development as it relates to another important location: the distant world of Runeria on which most of the events in Advent Heroes take place.

For the sake of story, the structure of Runeria is effectively planar in composition rather than the spherical structure of our world, and that planar structure also has a continuance so that once you get proper marine transport (which will be discussed at a much later date) you can approach a given location at the southernmost points on the map from the northernmost points, and in fact you will occasionally receive hints as to which approach is the quickest.

It is from here that Nefersia originates. I chose that name because of story reasons as well as for sake of lineage, as will be mentioned shortly. Nefersia, or “Neffie” to others, is a mana arts master, equivalent to a dark mage in other JRPG adventures. The naming is largely of a middle eastern nature in sound, not unlike Tutankhamen, Gaddafi, Cleopatra etc.; and as the game progresses, you’ll find out that she’s not the only one like her with such a name. And it is through her innate mana abilities that she is able to communicate across worlds to begin the process of divulging secrets that she cannot keep for too much longer as of when she makes the contact with Aiyumi, although in the latter case it initially sounds like the old “imagined friend” routine that you may be familiar with from growing up, but which turns out to be very real by the time the Mikuzi clan has arrived at their new home early on in the proceedings.

On a side note, this isn’t your typical fantasy world attire. Nefersia may be a mana arts master, but rather than go with the typical mage robes I went ahead and gave her the equivalent of a black tee with matching shorts and stockings in her youth, and what resembles a white blouse and denim jeans in her adult form. Part of this is because as an indie developer my resources are limited, so when designing the cutscenes in a layout tool called ComiPo I ended up relying on the base assets more than anything else (with the exception of a few small details such as the wheelchair described in the first devlog for which I did have to rely on external sources). Ultimately this also filtered down to her in-game sprite sheet as well, for the sake of design consistency:

Now one thing that you’ll notice is that Nefersia isn’t typical of a human character design. You may be familiar with the “four-eye freak” retort when dealing with someone who just started wearing glasses, but Nefersia is a four-ear freak! By consequence of matters she’s not allowed to know why, or who she once was, or any matter related to her differences from other people, but the prospect is still very evident. Especially since she also has a tail. An actual, biological tail – not unlike a beast, cat or common ape. In fact, Nefersia eventually realizes upon meeting a similar person early on in the proceedings that she may be connected to the same heritage, and that heritage is in fact of a half-beast origin. I won’t go into all of the specifics, but Nefersia may well be an outcast from her own lineage… and the reasons are very much a part of why she can’t know every single detail of what makes her as she is. In fact, she is hardly alone in this at all:

As I stated in the first devlog, the potential for advanced technological means of mitigating disability is a defining theme for Aiyumi, but just as much throughout Runeria as by consequence of Kagimu’s decision to give up her passion for sports to support Nefersia in exchange for safeguarding her deepest lost secrets until the appointed time the two worlds are increasingly similar in capability provisions both from a technological standpoint and in terms of ability mitigation. In fact, Kagimu has taken it to the next level by creating a version that works from outside the recipient’s body (as opposed to the hidden – and more deeply-integrated – version gifted to her sister). So it goes without saying that Nefersia will eventually find others like her who have been technologically encased by their own breed of biosupport integrations, and in some cases with even worse matters (such as soft heads requiring a full covering of their skullcaps with as much protection as their bodies – which is another real-world disability consequence for a number of severe mental disorders and in some cases an outright neural damage condition). Many of these individuals will also be seen with mitigative communication sensors clipped to their ears, not unlike that which was associated with Stephen Hawking but much smaller through the same advancements in neural research which features heavily in Aiyumi’s backstory.

I will end for now on that, however there is more to be said on the circumstances by which Aiyumi and Neffie meet for the first time, and what it means for both worlds and beyond. That prospect will be the focus of the next devlog, which hopefully shouldn’t take more than a month to release next time.

Devlog #1 – Character Design and Cutscene Layout

Reader Advisory: This post contains spoilers for the Advent Heroes project. Read on only if you’re comfortable with advance knowledge of the story within.

After several months of development, I have decided to begin posting updates on my game progress. I’m going to start with character design decisions and how cutscenes are handled.

First of all, there has been a change in naming conventions for major characters. To better match up with the genre, I have decided to throw in names that reference or match with Japanese tones and references, so the names now sound and spell like Japanese identities instead of more conventional Western names. For example, the Larson family is now the Mikuzi clan and the most important member thereof, Kyla Larson, is now Aiyumi Mikuzi. Her status has not changed all that much, but it is more evident in the opening sequence that she starts as a mute cripple in body and mind. That’s primarily because I have changed the opening cutscene from in-engine assets to a more visualized, manga-style format.

As a side note, these and other major cutscenes will be laid out visually in traditional format for the genre, reading from left to right compared to the more conventional layout of your typical Marvel or DC comic off the local newsstand. I felt that due to the use of Japanese-style roleplay gaming design (JRPG for short) that the usual, Westernized format wouldn’t do proper justice to the genre so I decided to follow the Japanese convention instead. This is something I didn’t originally know, and only found out through a neighbor who picked up an issue of a popular manga series at a comic-con style of library event hosted at the local university, which was the also the first in-person running of the event following the mass shutdowns of gatherings resulting from the crisis caused by the coronavirus incidence of the past few years.

Anyway, getting back to character design. Aiyumi is now more visually depicted as her initial, mute and crippled self as a result of this change. You can more clearly see the limitations of her body function as she is bound to a wheelchair during this initial introduction, a consequence of her disability and the traditional representation of functional limitations by consequence. In fact, her condition at this time is so bad that she has to be manually fed by her sister Kagimu (formerly Padma) at every lunch break. Despite this, she has a clear personal favorite in beef ramen, and manages to get along just fine with her family through the emotions that she is capable of exhibiting.

It is during one lunch break that Aiyumi’s doctor, Tajiro Yushi, calls her brother Satoru (named to honor the legacy of a since-deceased visionary in videogame design) to confirm that experimental surgical mitigation has been cleared for implementation, offering the potential for a way out of Aiyumi’s physical and mental predicament. And surprisingly, it works as the next part of the cutscene reveals:

Of course, despite this advancement in her capability – which is based on actual research potential for brain-to-computer interfacing (or BCI) – Aiyumi is still fairly limited in other ways, and not quick to accept unplanned surprises (a leftover from her condition which is based in part on my own experiences with mental disorders). I don’t use the A-word or R-word to describe either of these things, but it is clear from early on that Aiyumi’s neural structure is heavily influenced by the nuances of the spectrum – in other words, her mute cripple effects are largely to blame on ASD classification, and a severe one at that.

It’s important to note that much of this is drawn from my own experiences and observations of spectrum-influenced individuals as well as my own such classification. Disability – especially that resulting from ASD classifications – is a theme not typically represented in game design, and I felt that having an unlikely hero-to-be who begins the game under such influence would help to portray the potential for mitigating such limitations through any possible means, either now existing or that which is in developmental research but shows promise in alleviating even the worst such limitations as our understanding of neural and physical limitations increases with actual research into potential, life-changing solutions to even the worst functional prospects relative to actual, real-world disability.

I’ll be posting Devlog #2 no later than a month’s time from now (give or take), but I decided that it was important to get the basics of some of the core character designs and the new cutscene presentation out of the way to get things started. Next time I plan to go into character design a bit more, as well as the existence of a secondary world that plays a large part in the story and in fact is central to the crises yet to come.