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.