Hey kids, today in yet another poorly-thought-out Design with a grain of Salt, we’re talking about Witch Quest. It’s a video game for your computer TV machine.
Witch Quest is a game being solo developed by AngelGrace, a lunatic. You have to be a lunatic to be an indie game developer these days.
It was first released in October 2014 and has most recently been updated in November of 2018. The game is (according to Grace) about 40% complete.
I’m not going to get into the bugs here. The game has many, and Grace is going to fix them. You can’t criticize an author for bugs if they’re making an effort to fix them, we’re worried about cases where the author is ignoring bugs that damage the experience.
The First Act: Or, Why Getting to the Point is a Good Idea
Video games do not follow the same three-act structure that was first codified in ancient Greece. As a different medium for the telling of a story, they simply cannot be described in the same manner since the audience are the actors in a video game. That said, some of the terminology can be borrowed. So, what is the first act of a video game?
The first act is what happens right after you start a new game, and ends when we know the following things:
What the conflict is.
Who the protagonist is.
What motivates the protagonist to take up the conflict.
What you (the player) are going to do to solve the conflict.
That’s your first act. When you know the answer to all these questions, you are currently playing the game. Everything before that is the first act, and you’re not really playing it.
Witch Quest gets the first act out of the way in 2-3 minutes depending on how fast you can read. We get an intro blurb, Star (our hero) goes to help the priest, finds a magical artifact in the basement that reveals her power as a witch, and immediately fights off a villain who has come to conquer her hometown. She then gets booted out of said hometown because the people there hate and feat witches.
Bam. Done. We know the conflict (witches are taking over the world), the protagonist (Star), her motivation (she does not want to succumb to evil and wants to find a way to save both herself and humanity), and what the player is going to do (talk to people, explore, fight enemies).
It probably seems odd that I have to point this out, but I’m going to give you some other examples. Watch this video. The first act ends, for me, at around the 2 minute mark, when Doomguy crushes a zombie’s head. At that point we know the answers to all the questions. Conflict? Demons are invading. Protagonist? Doomguy. Motivation? Kill everyone. Method? Kill everyone.
Meanwhile, another modern game, Dying Light, takes over 30 minutes to finish its first act. It has extended cutscenes, tutorials, and other segments of not-gameplay. You don’t feel like you’re playing the game until you first get out of the tower and are allowed to run around freely. That’s when the first act end, because we know the first three questions but not the fourth. In Dying Light, the game is about parkouring around, fighting enemies, and looting stuff in a free and open environment. Tutorials thus are part of the first act.
Games need to get through their first acts as quickly as possible because we, the players, are not here for them. We’re here for games, not movies. Get the first act out of the way quickly. Witch Quest does this very well. Good work, Grace.
Active and Reactive Protagonists
Another common theme in narrative game design is the protagonist being active or reactive. In other media, a reactive protagonist is one who does not dictate the pace of the plot. They are running from their enemies, or are losing battles, or are hiding in the closet and just hoping no big monsters eat them. A reactive protagonist does not guide the plot, but is guided by it.
An active (or proactive) protagonist is on the offense. They are seeking out the conflict and trying to resolve it. They are attacking the bad guys in their forts or dungeons. Things happen when they show up. If there’s a monster in the house, they’re avoiding it and hiding while setting a trap for it.
Star is an active protagonist. Kicked out of her home, she sets off to right wrongs. When a priestess tells her of something wrong with a nearby shrine, she volunteers to help. She’s a witch with awesome magic powers, so she’s going to take the fight to the enemy. Witches have been abducting little girls and secreting them an academy to indoctrinate them into witchery? Star infiltrates the academy and confronts the headmistress directly. There’s a strange blizzard freezing the land? Star climbs a mountain to see what’s wrong at the shrine there.
Active protagonists are both more fun to follow, and more fun to play as. You, the player, feel as though you are making some progress towards solving the conflict. Star grows more powerful quickly and even starts besting some witches. It seems with a plan and some help from friends, you really can save the world and overcome the fate that seemed impossible to avoid early on. Narratively this is very satisfying.
The Fundamental Game Loop
Okay, so this is going to be a bit of a controversial point. I have determined what the true game loop of all video games is, so here it is.
Video games are about going around, slaying people, and taking their valuables.
Not every game ever made uses this loop, but for a game which has a game loop, this is usually it.
Dragon Warrior: Go around, find monsters, kill them, take their money, get better stuff to kill tougher monsters. Repeat.
Doom: Go around, find monsters, kill them, loot the rooms they were in. Repeat.
Battle Royale Games: Go around, find loot, find players, kill them, take their loot. Repeat.
The reason why this is an effective game loop is because each of the parts feeds into the others. More money = better stuff to kill with. More monsters = more killing = more money. Reaching new towns means they sell better stuff to kill monsters with. Dungeons are loaded with tougher monsters and loot to kill those monsters with. It feeds in on itself.
Witch Quest gets right to this. The third battle of the game results in Star making a new friend, helping to save the forest, and being immediately rewarded with an item to boost her stats. Beating up other enemies usually causes them to drop items which give buffs. The loops feed into one another.
By way of criticism, Witch Quest is rather straightforward. There are no additional battles if you want more loot, and functional item shops are rare. You can’t really spend the cash you get. But, your characters do get stronger as a direct result of battle. Yes, there are games where you grind against enemies to gain levels but the levels aren’t worth squat. This isn’t one of those.
And if that wasn’t enough, besting enemies will give Star news spells periodically. It’s just like slaying enemies and taking their stuff, but in terms of magic!
Witch Quest doesn’t screw around. There’s a few hours worth of game in it, depending on how fast you can read. It’s not padded, almost all of that time will be you doing something. Exploring, talking, brutalizing a victim, taking valuables, getting tougher.
Well, I suppose I’ve said enough. It’s time to talk about Helpless Heroine.
Helpless Heroine is how not to do these things
Helpess Heroine is a game made by KevinBach, first released in December of 2014. They were fairly close in terms of release date, though HH is “Complete” as of 2017.
It’s probably the most padded game experience I have ever had.
The protagonist is reactive for the first 16-20 hours of gameplay.
The game loop is non-functional since characters exit your party after every dungeon and may not be worth levelling up. The items found in a dungeon are ones you can buy, sometimes before even entering the dungeon.
You will quickly hate all the characters as they are selfish, vapid, violent, and shallow.
I wrote this article because I felt the need to compare the two games and see what they did right in relation to one another. The only thing I can say positively from a design perspective on Helpless Heroine, is that there’s a lot of it. Oh lawd there is a lot of it. If you like vore, petrification, and other ryona brutality, you’re going to find heaps of it in this game.
But, the most important point of comparison is that the first act of Helpless Heroine does not end until about 12-15 hours in. That’s a three hour window because fleeing from battles or not dying to party-stun group wipes is RNG dependent.
At the 12 hour mark, Onyx finally fights back and kills one of the game’s villains. Before that, she has spent the game fleeing. Helpless Heroine focuses on a reactive protagonist, is almost comically padded, has an incomprehensibly long first act, and doesn’t have a game loop until around 16 hours in.
Most people panned Helpless Heroine. In the ecchi game genre, we basically play things that interest our particular kinks and are delighted when they don’t suck. If something is not to your liking, few H-games are going to make you want to play them anyway. Helpless Heroine is the poster child for this. Its defenders are staunch, its creator surprisingly hostile to criticism, its gameplay terrible.
You deserve a better class of game. Witch Quest is trying to be that. Even if you’re not into the sort of game it is (transformation, monstergirls, corruption), it’s still worth a playthrough, because it’s fun. It stands on its own. Play Witch Quest.
What, you thought this game would escape criticism? Hell no, this is Design with a Grain of Salt, people.
First, Witch Quest is a one-angel-show. All of the graphics and sound are stock assets. This is fine as far as it goes, but there are other resources for free assets. Grace, I know you’re reading this (because I linked it to you. Hi!), but you can totally grab free stuff from elsewhere on the web and use it. This goes for you aspiring designers out there, too.
Places like opengameart.org have sprites, music, tiles, and backgrounds. Try to get them to fit the mold and pick assets which match the stock asset styles, and your game will look and feel better. You’ll stand out from the crowd.
And, since you’re “Under the radar” and not looking to go professional, you can therefore wholesale rip stuff from other games. This goes for other game developers who are making non-professional ecchi games: Go nuts! Borrow from Final Fantasy or Darkest Dungeon! Copyright laws are stupid, this is your chance to stick it to the man! It’s not legal, but the odds of getting a takedown notice are slim.
Second, there are some areas where the camera focus and map design are fairly clunky. It is a common belief among RPG Maker designers that their rooms must fill at least one full screen. This is false. Make the levels small enough that your player doesn’t need to spend too much time running across them. Remove buildings that don’t matter, or have them in areas of the map that the player doesn’t need to traverse. Ask yourself “Is there a reason the stairwell is 15 steps away instead of 5?”.
Third, we’d like a game loop to occur, and ideally around the time the player exits the catgirl village. My suggestion would be an area where the enemies respawn whenever the player reloads it, so they can fight the enemies within as many times as they like. Put a shop in the holy tower so the player can buy supplies. Otherwise, keep the every-enemy-a-miniboss design the game currently has.
Fourth, avoid stun and instant-KO attacks in enemy AIs. The Yuki-onna fight is extremely hard because it’s entirely possible to have the party chain-stunned by blizzard freezing the party. Ward doesn’t counter it. Stun/KO attacks are just not fun to fight against, they are dice rolls as to whether or not the player loses the battle.
Fifth, scale back all the spells to the same cost and base power. Going up against enemies that are weak to fire means you should use fire spells, but since Star regenerates MP anyway, using higher-cost wind spells actually does more damage since their base power is higher. Then, have her learn higher ranks of elemental spells (this already happens in the academy for three of them!) so we feel like Star is getting more powerful as the game goes on.
Sixth: Secrets! There are presently only a few minor secrets in the game, and they’re just examination text. Give us extra items or abilities for exploring, and the game becomes so much more engaging.
That’s all for now. Keep making the game. We’re all eager to see where it goes and will wait with bated breath for the next update.
2 thoughts on “Witch Quest: A Game You Should Play”
I thank you for your first act explanation it was interesting, and I agree that this game is good, while I also agree to most of the criticism and suggestions. But I will still object some things said.
First of all, while a Protagonist desperately needs some Proactive moments (true for games of almost all types and genres), when it comes to story heave games, moments when the main characters are forced to be on the defense, forced to be reactive and vulnerable for a while may also be needed to humanise them and show a different side of them to make the player better able to sympathise with them. I’d rather play a game with a a completely proactive main character than a completely reactive main character, but neither extreme seems to be ideal, the pacing needs some changes to avoid becomming droning (of course repeatedly completely breaking the pace would be worse).
Also, I’m a huge enemy of unrealistically small town in RPG’s, they break immersion like few other things for me, as such I’m more in favour of houses you can’t enter and town maps ending with streets and parts of houses suggesting that the town continues but getting messages like “this is the residentual quater, I don’t need to go there” or “that’s the noble quater, travellers aren’t allowed there” (or just no message leaving the player to figure out the perfectly obvious by themselves).
Whenever a capital city in an RPG is completely accessible but limited to a few houses and a giant castle it just opens too many questions about logistics that the player really shouldn’t be forced to bother pondering about while playing a game.
And related to that, while I mostly agree to your lecture about the size of RPG maker housing I have to say there are exceptions.
Houses need to reflect the owners, so it’s true most houses need to be small, particualrly in games taking place in a middle ages like setting. But residences of nobility and important traders need a certain size, ideally, as long as he is not a Crown Prince, the protagonist shouldn’t be able to enter them uninvited anyway, which should restict their number to less than a hand full, but these that the character may enter need their size to be believable.
Next, I’m not sure we really need a grind area to feel our need for a game loop to be fulfilled, so far it’s fine and I’m more concerned that the inclusion would sabotage the pace and tone of the game.
That’s about it, since it’s heavily influenced by personal tastes and being anal about certain aspects of presentation, you may take it or leave it.
You’re right on the case of the reactive vs. proactive protagonists. A protagonist becoming reactive temporarily is fine, it’s just the fully-reactive that’s the problem. The player loses interest if a protagonist is reactive for too long. It’s rare to see a story do this, and painful when it happens.
The town in an RPG does not need to be unrealistically small in order to be well designed. Instead, the useless houses that cannot be entered just need to be off the main path so the player doesn’t have to traverse them. Put all the buildings the player needs to enter within a small zone around the entrance. Places the player needs to go just once can be further away. Put walls and unpassable gates with houses on the other side so the area feels larger than it actually is.
Houses should be as large as they need to be. Make the average house small, a rich person’s house can be bigger, but once again put the stuff the player needs close to the entrance. If you’re trying to show off the extravagant wealth of an NPC, make them have a giant house you need to spend a full minute traversing to talk to them, while everyone else lives in dingy 1-room houses with 5 walkable tiles. It’s about contrast. My complaint was that many houses were the size they were for no obvious reason, they just filled out space.
Oh, and I only asked for the game loop area in the cases of the player wanting to do something about the game’s difficulty. Levels are fine in games where the player can make the game easier if they want to do a bit of grinding. Witch Quest has no opportunity to do that so the levels don’t do anything, you will always be the right level for an encounter. Instead of a game loop, “optional areas” is probably a better way to phrase this.
Put in more stuff that’s off the beaten path. The player doesn’t have to go to these areas but will have more items and XP if they do. Then, story battles can be as easy as the player wants, just based on how much optional stuff they have done.
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