Now that NEStalgia has become a much more "serious" endeavor, things have obviously changed a bit. The focus now is not only on expanding the scope of the game, but on making it accessible to a much larger audience than I ever previously envisioned. Today I'm not going to cover specific updates in great detail, but rather explain some of the sweeping changes that are in the works.
With the advent of stuff like clothing and hair dyes, my vision for just how antiquated NEStalgia's graphics ought to be has changed a bit. The game was never meant to have actual 8-bit visuals or adhere to NES color palettes and graphical restrictions - the goal has been to achieve an 8-bit inspired look. Part of maintaining that look has obviously been to restrict the use of too much color or flashy graphics... but I believe that in light of NEStalgia's growing scope, those self-imposed restrictions can be eased a bit.
A good example of the types of graphical changes this new philosophy will usher in: Most abilities and items will soon be getting their own unique HUD Icons/Buttons (consistent with the look of the current icons). In one instance I'm actually taking that a step further by replacing the generic class buttons in battle and the party menus with a character's full icon.
Speaking of battle, I think that it's time we finally moved away from simple screen flashes and used some more satisfying graphics to represent spells and other abilities. Example: Instead of a red flash, casting a fire spell will show a simple animation of fire engulfing a target. I may even move towards more powerful versions of different spells having bigger animations.
I'm going to need help with many of these new visual flairs, so I will soon be opening up a venue for community submitted sprites and artwork. My hope is also to replace some of the less attractive (crappier) monster sprites etc. with new graphics that better match the art style that the game has developed over time. We're still going to maintain the NES look and feel, but that doesn't mean that ugly idiots like Rehgor couldn't use a makeover.
Check out these screenshot of NEStalgia's status screen and a piece of gear from last summer:
Notice anything different? How about the fact that over half of the currently available character statistics are nowhere to be found!
Many of the new players may not realize this, but the elemental resistances and bonus stats are actually a fairly recent addition to the game. We essentially added all of the new stat modifiers on top of the game's existing numbers, and although we did a lot of balance testing we're still dealing with some unexpected side effects of that major change. As all of the powerful new gear found in the recent Black Sanctum update has made clear: there isn't much room for character stats to grow moving forward.
What NEStalgia needs is a complete ground-up revamp of character and gear statistics, and there is no better time to do it than now. Along with the advent of the game-changing class skill tree system I'll be wiping the slate clean and recalculating all of the numbers with a much grander vision for future growth in mind.
The idea will be to use the existing numbers as a guideline and to keep the current difficulty level and "feel" of the balance intact. I'm not looking to change the heart of NEStalgia, but to take what we've learned about how all of the different stats interact and reconstruct all of it to be even better than it was before.
BYOND has some inherent limitations, but they are far outweighed by what it is really good at doing. Choosing to use BYOND to develop NEStalgia was a no-brainer - as a hobbyist developer there isn't any other system out there that would allow me to create a game like this.
The recent success of NEStalgia has been both a blessing and a curse. I never anticipated serving such a large number of players (though I'm really happy to!), and having to split the community up into smaller servers is less than ideal. Lag is probably the biggest problem that we face, and the one that we are the most powerless to address.
Looking on the bright side, the success of NEStalgia has given BYOND plenty of incentive to optimizing things on their end in order to better handle games like this. With NEStalgia-specific improvements to the BYOND engine itself in the pipeline, we'll likely be seeing much less lag and a higher population cap for servers down the road.
Just to note: the general responsiveness of controls and the fluidity of movement in the game is also something that we are working on. Tightening this up even slightly will go a long way.
When it comes to the timeline for release, this series of "NEStalgia's Future" blog posts will be covering what are essentially my Summer 2011 update plans for the game. You may start to see some of this stuff implemented in the next few weeks, but parts of it may also be a couple months off. Please understand that I'm not comfortable giving out specific release dates unless I'm completely confident that I'll be able to meet them.
Check back tomorrow for a look at NEStalgia's forthcoming battle system improvements... and a sneak peak at the new AI Companions for solo players!
Check out the previous entry in the "NEStalgia's Future" series here: This Week the Future of NEStalgia Will Be Revealed