Virgo vs The Zodiac, Developer Interview

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Virgo Vs the Zodiac. A catchy name, and a simple enough premise. A step into a mythological realm where the Zodiac signs are each represented by a single character. And you are Virgo, and you’ve made it your quest to bring the others into line.

While this may be a simple premise, the story going on in the background seems much more complicated than you would think at first glance. With quirky humor, unique pixel based art, and in depth combat mechanics, Virgo Vs the Zodiac promises a story and experience that is incredibly memorable.

As the original demo was created in RPG Maker, we decide to catch up with the developer of the game, Nana, to ask a few questions.

Before we dive into the game itself, let’s hear a little about you. What is your history with video games? How did you get into gamedev?

I’ve been playing games since forever, I don’t know when I started (my memory is really bad), but I played a ton of Final Fantasy X and tactical games, aside from Pokemon. Because of my inability to do anything game related back then (programming, pixel art etc), it sounded unreasonable in my head to even pursue game making. Maybe I thought it wasn’t something conventional to do, or that it was too hard to even try.

Hence, I don’t actually have a childhood history with wanting to be a game developer, actually I spent half of my life wanting to be a journalist, and even got into Psychology college too. At some point, I found Nanoreno, which is a Visual Novel jam and thought it should be easy enough to participate and I tried to do it with nothing much in mind other than “oh, I have an idea for a story, I want to do something with it”. After that, ideas for other kinds of games flourished when I sensed doing Visual Novels wasn’t really for me at all, even though I liked playing them.

Then I found, I think it was “LieEat” on Steam, researched on the engine they used in the game and ended up finding RPG Maker instead in the process, which I used to do another game of mine that I plan to launch after VVTZ, so it’s a secret for now. After that everything sounds blurry in my head, suddenly I was making Virgo Vs The Zodiac and was sunk into it in a way that there was no coming back anymore and I was addicted. I can now say RPG Maker was what actually allowed my former (and lazy) self to actually start doing something in this field!

Of course, now my mind has changed, and upon trying my hands on it I can say it definitely sounds harder from the outside (or as a beginner) and I’m enjoying my time spent in game making, as nothing really got my attention before like this!

The first thing that struck me when playing through the RPG Maker demo of Virgo vs the Zodiac was the art and writing style. How did you arrive at the style you went with? Any inspirations?

For the art main inspirations it’s more of a counter-inspiration than actual inspiration. Many of the character designs were created by taking what I hated most in characters from JRPGs and doing the opposite, which is why Virgo herself is so simple, opposed to over-designed characters. The portraits often come before anything else so they dictate what will be relevant to show on the tiny world sprites. I try to use few colors as well so that palette swaps can be done more effectively, and for it to be more relevant in their designs/to show their Zodiac Qualities. All denizens from the Realms have mythological guidelines such as goats for Capricorn, rams for Aries and so on. Aside from Frans Beyond. Frans Beyond is too free to be held by guidelines. Actually most of the designs came to life from trial and error, until I got something that I was completely satisfied with and was plausible to animate.

For writing style, I think it was borrowed more from books and movies than games. My favourite book would be Neverending Story, and for a movie I can recommend Old Boy. I read a lot and try to consume as much as what fellow earthlings bring to the world, so that is a great source of inspiration!

A game I’m more inspired by for writing would be Mother and Earthbound. Undertale too! I absolutely love the first Mother game, it’s such an amazing game, I had moments of crying of laughter with it. Biggest influence for the writing style, though, comes from me having this naturally awful sense of humour in my daily life, so I just write the stuff I think would make me laugh. I also like to make fun of daily things that seem irrelevant, like a box. I think that’s why I added so many objects interactions in the game, since they’re usually scenario or irrelevant for the context in most games. For the more lore heavy stuff it’s mainly from personal Astrology knowledge, since I’ve read deeply on Astrology for years before even thinking of making the game, so it transfers more organically, I think.

Many RPG Maker games inspired me, since they always have this specific unique touch to them, as well as a lot of love put into it. I can say OFF and Space Funeral as well as Three Ghostly Roses inspired me a lot! Honorable mentions to Hylics, To the Moon and Helen’s Mysterious Castle!

So on from the art and writing, let’s look a bit at the mechanics. Virgo vs the Zodiac uses a lot of mechanics to mix up the normal turn-based RPG formula: Rock/Paper/Scissors mechanics, counterattacks, timed hits and more. What was the design goal with the combat system, and what was the process that led to the implementation of those mechanics?

That comes from replaying old JRPGs and noticing they had very little going on to them, while a turn-based system allows for so many things at once. I wanted to “fix” some things that bothered me on the genre, such as the lack of interactivity during combat, the long-term management (such as having enough MP to either cast spells on your way to the boss or use them in the bossfight, or having enemies that deal 1/20th of your HP bar in damage and only really matter over a bunch of encounters) I wanted a more immediate management and sense of danger.

I wanted to take gameplay elements from JRPGs and make them more meaningful, less safe, to encourage players to learn every bit of the system and strategise outside of the obvious. I wanted enemies to push players to make unthoughtful decisions because they actually felt pressured, instead of following a “I win” command order for every battle. This also means battles needed to be fewer and longer. I wanted the player to feel the struggle of a super powerful being fighting other super powerful beings.

Back in middle school when I was playing Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga I kept imagining a more traditional JRPG using timed-hit mechanics, since that game had very few commands and more focus on the puzzly aspects. The counter-attack system takes from the Virgo archetype to incorporate with the whole game. I wanted the player to feel like a Virgo, and think like one, preparing beforehand for their troubles and being tactful. Virgo as an archetype is quick to judge, always ready with a counterpoint, so the whole game gets with that. Enemies follow the same rule, to always show a clear risk management when attacking them. If they’re protected, they’ll hit you back as well so paying more attention to the enemies is relevant, as I wanted all systems to be.

So the original demo was created in RPG Maker, but doesn’t feel like a “standard RPG Maker Game”. A lot of this has to do with the custom art, but also the implementation of plugins. We noticed a lot of plugins that are publicly available. How much of the coding customization was custom made, and how much was using publicly made materials? Where do you suggest RPG Makers look to help differentiate their game mechanically from the standard RPG Maker game?

Not a single plugin used in the RPG Maker demo was customly made, actually! All the ones I used back then were found on the internet. Kudos for Yanfly, SumRndDde, Moghunter, Galv, Himeworks and a bunch of other amazing people! I probably edited a 5 or so lines of code from the base RPG Maker code as well, but nothing other than really tiny details.

Most of the battle system was made through MV’s database and Yanfly’s battle plugins. For adding Virgo’s attack animations I used composite frames (dividing all weapon animations in 2, then cautiously putting them together in the Animator) and using Yanfly’s shenanigans to hide the true Virgo during the attacks! That’s why it stutters a bit sometimes, hehe.

For suggestion, starting with Yanfly’s library is pretty solid. Especially now that he updated a lot of plugins to use the new MV interfaces. Then you customize the everliving heck out of everything. Try to change all the values, play around A LOT and learn all the small things. Never fear the engine. Make a dummy project and dump all your ideas in it, try to take these ideas further, try to make a whole game based on a single mechanic and grow it out of that. Many say RPG Maker is limited, but limitation breeds creativity, and there’s where the riches of game development are.

For the world to feel more of its own thing, I believe it’s more of a custom graphics thing. In Virgo I didn’t want elements and characters to feel too restricted by their sprite borders, so everything is a little smaller than their sprite limits. There are some nice plugins as well to zoom in the camera (Virgo is 2x), change tile sizes and the like. I think people should try to build new foundations for their projects rather than taking a lot of the defaults and just adding things to that.

Also, try to “fix” any issue with events before looking for plugins. The puzzle-solving aspect of how to deal with situations on RPG Maker makes it so much more fun to build things in it. There’s no single solution, only several paths towards greatness. And I think that summarizes a lot of what’s game making in general.

Overall, it’s important not to take your first project too seriously, and not to be afraid of high numbers. I see many games with low chances, for example, 15% critical chance for a buff, which stalls the combat and makes for the things thought out to be less relevant, so be bold and do not care much about what other people are doing. It is your game before and foremost, and it should show your ideas! Go for the extremes!

So after using RPG Maker for the initial demo and proof of concept, you’ve moved on to another engine for the full game. What is in store for the future of Virgo vs the Zodiac? The ending of the demo hints at much bigger events going on behind the scenes, what can we expect from the full game?

The future is brimming with Alpacas!

There’s much more I want to show people, and I’m so excited to actually see them playing the game. There’s much more intrigue, alpacas (you can have Alpacas as a mount!), betrayals, supernovas, odd friendships and maybe even marriages! Who knows?

An important thing we added was to take the final equipment you get on the Capricorn demo and make the combat focused on that (with the addition of several kinds of timed hits), also adding branching battles (for example, killing an enemy first triggering different skills on its partnering counterpart), more carefully thought AI, which reacts to several buffs and debuffs, with more honed out combat overall. Crafting is also a thing now, and more than 150 equipment choices are available to use in Virgo or share with the party members!

There are many intricacies behind the events that occurred in Capricorn along the game, and I hope people can catch on that as well, to uncover more truths behind the events there throughout the game and alongside the Zodiac Memories, an outside of the main quest section where you dive into Virgo’s memories with each Zodiac! Other than that, players will be able to visit fluffy labyrinths, a colosseum, the chocolate factory, mushroom forests and even a horrific vampire hotel! There’s a great variety of places with a bunch of aching plots as well as many tough battles along the way. It’ll probably be a really tough mission for a cookie, but as Virgo, you’ll be able to purge your way in, or die a lot along the way, but you can always try again! So I hope it’ll be an enjoyable journey in the end!

Thank you for taking the time to tell us more about Virgo vs the Zodiac, and your experience in building the demo in RPG Maker. Is there anything you want to say to aspiring game devs and/or potential future fans of your game before you leave?

For aspiring game devs: Continue being you and doing your own things! They’re special! Experiment, try on a simple engine like RPG Maker, make your first RPG. Games have made me laugh, cry and caused many mixed feelings, because they’re made by people, and we’re all different and unique in our own ways. I want to play the games you all make (hopefully, when I get the time…)! Never give up, because then you won’t see the end road of your tough journey! Work hard on your games, try to keep things consistent, even if slow, and you’ll get where you want someday! It is a long road, so no need to panic or feel anxious about it. Just do the game you are proud of, in your own time!

I would like to thank everyone who takes their time to play games. Making games is definitely something hard to do, and people can only finish them with a lot of love being put into their projects, so when you play a game you’re essentially making developers happy across the globe. Thank you! Thank you to everyone who played or intend to play the game once it’s out! And please do play the demo if you can, even if you’re waiting for the full game. It’s one of my first humble little experiences that I did by myself with RPG Maker that I’m very proud of, and I hope you can play that as well!

Now I must go, as Virgo is pressing me into finishing her story while calling me a Heretic. =( But I do hope you’ll have fun with the final game, I’m giving my best to deliver the best I can do! 😀

Thanks you Nana for taking the time to talk to us, and for the words of encouragement to all the aspiring RPG Maker devs out there. Virgo Vs the Zodiac is shaping up to be a solid entry into the RPG genre, and we wish you the best in its future!

So, to all the aspiring and perhaps even successful game devs out there in our audience, what questions do you have, either about the game or about dev in general, for the Virgo Vs the Zodiac devs?

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