Developer: Pixelated Milk Game Title: Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs Release: May 18, 2017
Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs, is a hybrid JRPG and strategy game from Pixelated Milk. EFG spoke with the team to discuss how their influences shaped the game’s combat, how they created original and appealing characters, and the difficulty and advantages of choosing to work within 2D environments.
Hello, I’m Jędrzej Łojewski, and I’m the writer and designer of Regalia. I was also one of the people working on Regalia’s combat system.
Inspirations and prototypes
Regalia started out as an attempt to homage and tinker with all the Japanese RPGs formulas we knew. The very first draft for the combat system was largely based on Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, with a rigid move-act dichotomy and classes that regulate character mechanics. Admittedly, as the concept evolved, much of this got retooled into less derivative mechanics, like abilities being fixed and the innate property of every combatant.
Total abilities and balancing
Given the aforementioned approach, I would estimate around 300 total abilities or so.
As we tried to avoid giving characters what would basically amount to a generic attack command, most of the usable abilities were intertwined with various positive or negative secondary effects. For maximum benefit, these often require proper coordination between other combatants and their own pools of inflictable effects. Case in point: we’ve had reports that one of the hidden bosses, while hard, could turn laughably easy with a clever player’s manipulation of the boss’ own debuff ability. While this exact interaction wasn’t really intended, the fact that people were successfully experimenting with such combinations made us quite happy.
The square grid design
It’s one of those “legacy” decisions that we collectively agreed on and stuck through with. Both Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea used a square grid, and we thought that a change to this format would take us too far away from our roots.
In truth, while we certainly needed an outsider’s perspective on things, we weren’t exactly in a position to do large-scale outsourced testing. Ultimately, most of the testing duties were entrusted largely to kind internet souls, friends, and our families.
Emphasizing the strategy
I realize it is largely a matter of personal taste to define what works or doesn’t, but in our case, we intended to emphasize somewhat the “strategy” part of the equation. It’s true that many Japanese representatives of the genre focus on rich customization and the feeling of power exercised through character sheet numbers – we like those aspects too, make no mistake. Nevertheless, for Regalia, we tried to go with an approach that prioritizes a good, careful combat plan first and foremost. What works on monster A shouldn’t always work on monster B, and sheer stat advantages shouldn’t be the only thing to win your battles for you, especially if you’re aiming for the optional challenges that we inserted into every battle.
While they certainly aren’t anything groundbreaking, I would say it’s the sum of various small concepts: the aforementioned lack of an auto-attack, the focus on classless combatants with innate playstyles, the complete lack of combat healing, and the Authority Points system. The last two require some elaboration, I think. First of all, there are no traditional “heals” or “healbots” in Regalia. The most you can do is accumulate temporary HPs, or Shield Points, which help you soak damage before it hits your health bar. Other than that, as soon as your damage spills over to your HP proper, you can’t recover it until the battle’s over.
The second of the concepts I singled out is the Authority Points system. Authority Points are a slowly accumulating combat resource that enables you to influence the otherwise classic turn-based combat economy. You can spend those points to gain extra ability uses in a turn, attempt another attack when your previous one missed, and – with high enough count – use them to execute your game-changing ultimate abilities. Each character has one such ability, and they vary from typical high-powered nukes to summoned entities and last resort super buffs.
Scrapped ideas and overhauling combat
This was our first project, and it’s not hard to imagine what happens when you unleash a promoted fanboy. There were tons of clashing ideas and solutions that got nowhere, like the blatant borrowings from Final Fantasy Tactics, the idea to have multiple classes with varied class resources that built up through specific actions, or the idea that spellcasters would draw their spells from power sources scattered around the battlefield. In the end, many of these ideas ended up being accepted and developed only to be shot down during testing as clunky, impractical, unfitting or, well, simply unfun. The combat system we ended up with was the end product of many, many time-consuming overhauls, and there certainly is plenty of room to improve there. Still, I think it ended up doing its desired job well, especially in regard to the variety of encounters and effective player strategies. As to what I’m most proud of, it’s a silly little thing, but I was absurdly happy that we managed to include 2×2 size combatants in the game. Makes punching certain beasties a little more satisfying, I think.
Hello. My name is Lucjan Pakulski, sometimes also known as Runshin, and I’m the lead artist and character designer for Regalia.
Number of total characters
Around 30, without taking into account all the monsters and special enemies, and there’s a good bunch of them – I don’t even remember how many.
Rules of character design
The most important guideline we strived to uphold was to make every character varied and visually distinct, the protagonist’s family being an exception to this – after all, you can’t beat genes. In addition, a lot of emphasis was put on keeping each character’s color scheme unique.
Much of the visual inspiration was drawn from games created by Vanillaware, a studio famed for its largely exaggerated proportions. Every character’s silhouette was meant to draw out certain signature features, features which could be wildly and richly imagined thanks to the overall cartoonish style of the game. The only limiting factor was our own imagination.
The funny thing is, when I was designing the characters, I was basing them on descriptions provided by our writer, and I was never entirely sure whether my designs would ultimately align with his vision. That said, at the end of the day, a designed character’s personality would often instead be adjusted, to a degree, to match my artwork. As such, character creation ended up being a vastly more dynamic process. Some of the characters, like, say, Gunther, didn’t even exist in the initial draft of the game – these guys came into being due to miscellaneous page doodles I made while working on other characters. Sometimes, the team would end up liking these doodles, which then would end up being reworked into full-fledged characters.
I think the first character is always the most challenging one, as it sets the style and boundaries for the ones that will be created later. There were some restrictions. As I mentioned, while I was in charge of visualizing the characters, the initial spark behind them came from the team. On the other hand, I had complete freedom to create each character’s own style and design. During the early days of the project, back when I was the only artist on the team and pretty much my own boss, time and time again I would find myself compulsively redesigning the initial cast. Characters like Griffith, Levant, or Signy ended up having around three or four complete visual overhauls. Fortunately, later on, I was busy enough to drop that habit for actually drawing new characters.
I’d say it’s useful to try and put oneself in a character’s shoes, in all the scenes and situations where that character will ultimately appear. Situations that can be humorous, sad, intense, you know, to bring them to life in one’s mind before sketching the first line. To know what emotions a character is supposed to evoke both in the audience and in other characters in their world. If a character proves interesting enough in that context, it is only a matter of time before you find that perfect look to pair it with, I think. Of course, this doesn’t mean there won’t be any tweaks later, but the general vibe remains easy to express.
It’s a tough call, especially since every single design took a lot of thought and effort. But If I had to pick, I think I’d have to go with Griffith. He was the first character I drew for the project and like I said before, the one that would set the visual foundation for all the following designs.
Hello, I’m Sylwia Pakulska, and I was in charge of creating most of the backgrounds and some of the UI elements you can find in Regalia. Admittedly, it was a first for me, as my everyday job involves a completely different type of graphics, so you could say that the game was something of a learning process.
Working with 2D environments
The decision to go with 2D came about rather naturally. The goal was to preserve the painting-like quality of the graphics, which we could have achieved either with an appropriately textured 3D landscape or a hand-drawn 2D backdrop. Although I wasn’t very experienced in drawing backgrounds, I was even less knowledgeable in the field of creating texture, or 3D modeling proper.
Before I joined the team, Lucjan had been the sole artist involved in the project. Originally, he was supposed to be in charge of creating the entirety of art assets, backgrounds included. I can still recall his attempts to convince me to join the team. At that time I was quite hesitant about the project, you see. In truth, backgrounds were the last thing I was willing to dabble in. Trying to overcome this, stepping out of my comfort zone, proved quite a challenge. Adding the need to quickly learn 3D modeling and texturing on top of all that would simply be too much for me, I think. Most likely I wouldn’t have joined the project. In hindsight, I suppose this was a good creative boost. It was an opportunity to exercise spatial thinking, try out new techniques, to change the way I apply colors. I would say it even positively influenced some of my unrelated personal projects.
Ultimately, I think each of those styles comes with its own set of pros and cons; the trick is learning how to deal with them properly.
I had the personal advantage of being able to work with programs I was already comfortable with, even if the nature of the project was quite different from the usual. The difficulties stemmed from the occasional conflicts over artistic vision and frequent touch-ups I had to apply to my drawings, be it throughout the process or afterward. A comparable act of moving or editing an object in a 3D landscape would definitely be much easier. Ultimately, I think each of those styles comes with its own set of pros and cons; the trick is learning how to deal with them properly.
Each background request came with a series of descriptions and reference photos, and frequently also a predefined grid shape that would influence the layout for combat backgrounds. Aside from respecting that initial thematic groundwork, I had plenty of creative freedom. Sometimes, there would be some mistakes, like a mismatch in scale, or perhaps it would turn out that some part of the background did not align with the grid. Fortunately, the team was very understanding throughout my learning process.
The role of color
It plays a tremendous role in setting the mood of a background piece. It’s something I steadily grew to realize as the project developed. While I was fiddling with contrasts or complementary colors, it slowly dawned on me that snow may not always be white, and that leaves don’t have to be vividly green; to boldly implement that realization into the game was in equal parts a great challenge and a great pleasure. For backgrounds to appear lively, I would split them into layers, which then were animated using a parallax scrolling effect. Also, subtle animations were sometimes applied to trees, grass, water, and so on.
I used Photoshop and Paint Tool SAI. The former was used primarily for color correction purposes, the latter for most of the background creation steps, from sketching to applying and blending colors.
The environment you are most proud of?
Definitely the town pier environment. I had a lot of fun creating every little rock there, every little patch of grass, and every wave on the water surface. The feel and color scheme of that place reminds me of my childhood lake trips. I hope our players had as much fun fishing in that environment as I had while drawing it.
It’s a bit like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. I love them all almost equally.
Thank you for this opportunity! Is there anything you would like to add to this?
Well, how about this: making games is surprisingly hard. And thank you for the interview!
We thank Jędrzej Łojewski, Lucjan Pakulski, and Sylwia Pakulska for talking about the development process on Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs.