I keep telling people that the Wildsilver Demo isn’t your ordinary demo, but ‘kind of its own thing’. It doesn’t simply consist in the first section of the full game, but works as a (gameplay-focussed) game itself. It is, I hope, a satisfying experience that doesn’t feel cut off. Here’s how it came about — and why.
Watching the Studio Blue letsplay of the Wildsilver Demo, I realised I hadn’t been clear enough about what the term ‘Demo’ actually means, how this version of my next game came into existence and what I’ve tried to accomplish by releasing it to the public in May 2021.
Studio Blue made a few remarks on what they had gathered the demo would be like, measuring experience up against expectations. Their criticism was fair, given what they had in mind for an ideal battle-system demo. But the Wildsilver Demo is not exactly that.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Dial down the Experimentation
My games have always been kind of experimental in terms of design decisions. Game Master and Game Master Plus mostly refrain from hand-holding, presenting even seasoned gamers with a variety of little challenges, well-hidden secrets and easter eggs to find (even though I’ve tried to make GMP a little more accessible with recent patches). LV99: Final Fortress had a unique setting with its cast of accomplished max-level protagonists and its focus on epic boss battles.
After those three games, however, I decided to try something different – which actually meant something more conventional. My next game, Wildsilver, was (and is) supposed to be a story-driven JRPG unafraid to stick to the proven formula most of the time: I won’t try new things just for the sake of it, but only when I think it’s more fun than one of the usual approaches.
RPG Maker MV Ace + V
Wildsilver has been in development for a few months now, and so far, I think I’ve followed my own guidelines. Even though I haven’t granted myself as much creative freedom as before, there has never been any lack of motivation as might have been expected. It certainly helped that I could set about the project using RPG Maker MZ, the newest instalment in the series of engines specifically designed for the genre. I love using new versions of software I’m familiar with, trying out any new features and finding joy in the smallest quality-of-life changes.
That said, RPG Maker MZ itself turned out to be quite similar to its predecessor, RPG Maker MV. You could barely call it an ‘RPG Maker MV Ace’ (an upgrade like VX Ace was to VX) if I’m completely honest. The real improvement over MV came with the plugins created by VisuStella. These plugins should be considered the main library for MZ, similar to Yanfly’s plugins for VX, VX Ace and MV. I may write an entire blog article about my favourite features provided by Visustella plugins. In short, apart from extending the design space and allowing for more efficient programming, Visustella made it very easy for an RPG Maker MZ game to look good.
Polishing a Prototype
Development went smoothly, and as usual, I followed the plan as I had laid it out — until it was time for some playtesting sessions. I got my girlfriend, my sister as well as a friend (and former playtester) to give the Wildsilver prototype a try.
Turned out it was pretty fun!
I had created the first dungeon, the Forest, as had I envisioned it in the full version of the game, and watching Marja’s, Stefanie’s and Alexander’s playthroughs, I realised that this part alone constituted a worthwhile gaming experience. And so I thought: What if I sketch out the rest of the game, condensing it down to the mechanics, and see if the structure — that is, the skills and items and enemies — that looks reasonable on paper would work in practice?
While this approach certainly wasn’t anything new, I believe not many developers have ever decided to actually polish a prototype as much as I decided to, practically creating a full game from it. At this point, however, the only reason to do it was to give my friends an idea how Wildsilver may look and feel once it’s done. It had been clear to me that development would take a long, long time, and so I wanted to give them as good as possible an impression of what I was — or we were — actually working on.
I kept working on the Wildsilver prototype, expanding it into an even longer game. It had grown so much — spanning about 4 hours — that I had to ask myself whether this wasn’t something hardcore JRPG fans would be interested in playing. Testing. Giving feedback on.
Coincidentally, at that point in time, I had been playing Hades, and I was very impressed by it. I found the Noclip documentary showing the development of Supergiant’s latest masterpiece.
I think Hades owes its success in large part to Twitch streamers who playtested the game in early versions, taking part in the development process. Watching the documentary, I decided that I would try something similar with Wildsilver.
Maintaining two Versions
When I released the Wildsilver Demo, the plan was to incorporate all the feedback it would receive into the full game. Since then, however, the demo and the full game have departed from each other in many ways.
I’m still hoping for more feedback about the elements that overlap between the versions, but while I won’t make any significant changes to the demo anymore, I am, at the same time, willing to make changes to the full version as I see fit. For example, even though some of the mystic equipment in the Wildsilver Demo seemed pretty fun, not every piece will be available in the full game. The demo, on the other hand, will probably retain the pieces it currently has (with minor changes where necessary).
After the release of the full game, the Wildsilver Demo will probably disappear from the Steam page and be replaced with a more traditional demo (a chapter of the full game).
I’m quite sure, however, that the Wildsilver Demo should still be available in the future, for example on itch.io and rpgmaker.net, not only as a document of time, but also as an enjoyable gaming experience in itself. Thus, the full version of Wildsilver should actually be considered not my fourth, but my fifth game.
What do you think? Should more developers release demos that are ‘kind of their own thing’, gameplay-focussed, but satisfying to complete instead of deliberately cut short?