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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsLonely Star - action / corn / RPG
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Peace Soft
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« Reply #60 on: August 04, 2016, 04:27:33 PM »

By the way, that demo update appears NOT to work with save files from older versions. I'm trying to figure out a way to patch this game, which is something that Game Maker doesn't appear to support out of the box. I guess it's not as big an issue for an hourlong demo, but it would be a significant problem not to be able to retain saves across patches on the full game. If anyone has experience doing something like that, please let me know. Thanks!
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« Reply #61 on: August 05, 2016, 09:14:25 PM »

Just wanted to say how excited I am about the game since you told me about it. And the soundtrack is phenomenal. Hopefully we can get a mac version at some point.
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Peace Soft
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« Reply #62 on: August 09, 2016, 04:25:04 PM »

Just wanted to say how excited I am about the game since you told me about it. And the soundtrack is phenomenal. Hopefully we can get a mac version at some point.

Hey, thank you! And thanks for the excellent writeup. (this here for the rest of yall). Planning on a Mac version as soon as I've got money to replace or fix my Mac. Soon I hope Smiley



Here's another level design post that will be moved to this thread later.

I'm working on some small improvements to the demo, little things that commenters have mentioned, for the most part:
-less exaggerated momentum when you're changing directions
-the WASD keys not changing your parry direction (nobody commented on this; it was never supposed to do this  Embarrassed)
-a little "DANGER" caption that flickers over the "candle flame" icon, because a lot of people have not realized what that thing signifies
-a new effect for the "smoking mirror" enemies that makes it clearer what's going on (they stun/damage you when you're looking at them; darkness and cloud magic can block this)

If there's anything else you'd like to see included, let me know!
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« Reply #63 on: August 09, 2016, 05:14:42 PM »

Weird and really neat art, I'm digging it so far  Hand Thumbs Up Left Hand Thumbs Up Right
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« Reply #64 on: August 15, 2016, 11:34:18 AM »

Weird and really neat art, I'm digging it so far  Hand Thumbs Up Left Hand Thumbs Up Right

Awesome, thanks!

Here's another crosspost about what I'm working on now:

(this was as of Saturday)

The point of having momentum in this game is to a) add some physicality to the player's movement and b) limit the player's ability to instantly change directions without using the dodge move, which is important for close-range combat.

Here's the original method: if I just add the vectors, you get way too long stretches where the player's actual movement is significantly off the desired direction:



(excuse my debug interface) (except the arrow(s) which are the direction being pressed on the WASD keys vs the actual direction the player object is moving)

Then I tried correcting to the desired direction if the actual direction of movement is within 45 degrees, which works better,



But quickly develops this problem:



You see what's going on here, the difference between the two turns? The way the player physically interacts with the WASD keys complicates this. It makes a difference whether the change in directions involves moving your index finger between W and S. It makes a difference whether you tend to "slide" from one input to another,hitting intermediate positions along the way, or you take your fingers entirely off the previous input and put them back down on the new one.



Now I'm trying changing directions instantly but cutting the speed by a percentage that corresponds to the difference between the old angle and the new one. But 180 degree turns do feel too fast now, and it's close to having to momentum at all.

I posted part of this update to a game development thread on another site, and most of the other developers preferred the original method. Some said it might be more of an issue with how movement is represented than how it works; like, for example, if the player character had a "skidding" animation when changing directions, the original method of handling momentum would seem natural. So today:



This is working pretty well I think! If there's time I'll add a second frame for each direction to emphasize the cape billowing, but it already gets the point across. The turning speed for smaller turns (like <= 90 degrees) is significantly faster now, too, but it doesn't snap into place like the 2nd and 3rd gifs above, so it doesn't have that arbitrary, inconsistent effect depending on how the player presses the inputs.
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« Reply #65 on: August 15, 2016, 01:53:16 PM »

Huge fan of the visual and audio aesthetic.

Is there any possibility of supporting other operating systems?
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-Rhys
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« Reply #66 on: August 19, 2016, 09:24:03 AM »

Enjoyed that post about the momentum issue. The new animation definitely makes an improvement on readability.
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Peace Soft
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« Reply #67 on: August 19, 2016, 01:41:08 PM »

Huge fan of the visual and audio aesthetic.

Is there any possibility of supporting other operating systems?

Thank you, and yes! Game Maker has Mac and Linux support, but both of those require a dedicated machine (in the first case, with developer certs from Apple) for exporting and testing, so they're gonna have to wait til I have some money to spend on that.

A new build of the demo is up, with
  • Improved parrying controls
  • Improved movement
  • Improved combat
  • Improved torch controls
  • Slight script revisions and a restored hidden area
  • A less intrusive UI
  • Better difficulty responsiveness -- random encounters decrease if you're dying a lot
  • Minor bug fixes
  • Also you can walk backwards and it looks right now
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Peace Soft
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« Reply #68 on: August 19, 2016, 01:53:51 PM »



See he's doing it
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Peace Soft
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« Reply #69 on: August 30, 2016, 03:30:14 PM »

Here's me talking about level design and the illusion of 3d space: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/51725075/lonely-star/posts/1641092

I'm gonna start reposting these on my devlog thread here! I'll put em on my site too. This one is written for a more general Kickstarter audience so a lot of it is stuff that may already be obvious to game devs.

Level design, pt. 1: The illusion of space

Hi! Today I'm gonna talk about the process of building a Lonely Star level. Let's look at the "Home" area where the demo starts-- it's a good example because it's complex, with indoor and outdoor areas and spatial illusions. First I do a few super rough sketches describing the layout and perspective of the area, including indoor and separated sections. 



Indoor zones

How the level fits into the landscape

You can see how, with an open outdoor area like this, the central layout of buildings and the boundaries of the level are often figured out separately. It's weird, even psychologically disconcerting, to realize that when you're offering the player the illusion of freedom, what you're really doing is figuring out how to trap them in your world without them noticing, or escaping, or even wanting to escape. Renee Nejo described it as building a prison for the player. It's hard to look at game worlds the same way once you've built one. 



(Can I digress here for a second? Hiding these boundaries is important. The player should never be prevented from going somewhere they want to go by an obstacle that they could easily pass in real life. You've all probably stepped off a tiny ledge in a video game, only to discover that you can't get back up, just because the game doesn't have a jump button. A surmountable obstacle in the right place piques the player's interest, gives them something to do, and distracts from the arbitrary insurmountable obstacles on the edge of the game world.)



After sketching I make any new tile graphics that the new area requires. Tiles are for unchanging graphics like floors and walls-- particularly anything I know will be either always behind, or always in front of, the moving objects (e.g. the player character, enemies, animals). The engine I'm using, Game Maker, is pretty ubiquitous in 2D indie games-- Hyper Light Drifter, Hotline Miami, and Spelunky all use it-- in part because it's well equipped to deal with these very problems. Tiles are organized into layers of different depths; tiles with lower depth than the player's character will appear in front of them, tiles with higher depth will appear behind. Here's how the layers look in the Game Maker level editor: 



This is a 2D game with an illusion of 3D space, so things get even trickier. It's a lot like building theater sets. (Remember the opera house in Final Fantasy, where the stage flats look and function exactly like the "real" castles in the game world?) 



The player can't be allowed to move into the space behind some of these tiles, either because that space doesn't actually exist, or because letting them go there would obscure the action. But by making the "stage flats" big enough that the player can step partially behind them, the 3D illusion is preserved. And though the player gets that it isn't quite realistic, I can show them the rules of the game on an intuitive, unconscious level, just by being consistent in the way I depict things. 



For example, when the player really can move behind a large object, it turns transparent when they're on the other side of it. That also lets them see whether an enemy is hiding behind it! 



Objects are distinct from tiles; they're things that the player needs to able to maneuver freely around, like the pillars and the still here, or the semi truck pictured above. Freely intermixing tiles and objects does a lot to convince the player that they're moving through space in a realistic way. 



Here are the tiles vs. the objects in the level editor. Some things, like the pillars, are part-tile and part-object, so that I can increase their heights with tiles without having to make new object graphics for every possible size they could be. In the object view, you can also see the invisible architecture of the level. Those transparent red and blue boxes define where the player really can move, and you'll notice that they don't always line up where you'd expect, but the result feels right when the player interacts with it.





While I'm building the level, I constantly reference the original sketches to keep proportions in check. I usually keep the level editor zoomed in to actual size, because it helps me keep track of what the player will see on the screen at any given moment, and gives me a reference point for the size of things relative to people. 




Here's another kind of invisible architecture-- a "fall," which is a wall with built-in gravity. It can be disorienting to try to build this stuff in a way that neither looks nor behaves unnaturally. The player can never be allowed to fall off the north side of something, because "north," "up," and "uphill" are all the same thing behind the scenes. 

To help with the illusion of space, I built a special kind of isometric fall, one that can function as either a "wall" or a "fall" depending on the direction the player's coming from. It's kind of hard to explain, so let me just show you: 



Here's how it's supposed to work. But if I disable the line of code that makes this object distinct... 



...the player plunges through non-Euclidean space like a hapless explorer in a Lovecraft story. There's not a shred of true 3D functionality in this game; it's 100% optical illusion.
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« Reply #70 on: September 06, 2016, 01:22:18 PM »

Another Kickstarter repost:

Level Design pt. 2: Structure and Challenge

Hi! Last time I talked about the technical aspects of designing a level; this time I'm going to discuss level design in terms of challenge and structure. The Snake Town level from late in the demo is the best way to explain this, so be warned that the rest of this post will have spoilers for that part of the demo. On the other hand, if you're stuck in Snake Town, this might be exactly what you're looking for. 

OK, so, in order to learn how to make the magic of fire, the player has to undertake a quest that proves they can handle it. This was inspired by a weird phrasing in the original Legend of Zelda; at one point, you find an old man who offers you a better sword, with the line of dialogue "Master using this and you can have it." What he really means is that you need a certain number of heart containers or something, but I liked the idea of the player having to demonstrate mastery of an item before they can walk away with it. Since there's a mechanical difference between having some fire magic and being able to make more of it on your own, this quest seemed like a good opportunity to use that idea.



The goal here is to retrieve a "holy stone" from under Snake Town and return it to Moustapha. Since there's no human-accessible entrance to the ruined town, he gives you, in addition to some fire magic, a potion that turns you temporarily into a snake. When you find the stone, your human form is restored, and then you have to escape with it. 

There are three discrete areas to the Snake Town level: the inner part of the ruined town, the cave underneath it where the stone is, and a series of snake tunnels that connect the other two, and which you can only enter in snake form.



I've added some labels so you can see how the three areas connect-- "A" connects to "A", "B" to "B," etc. An orange label shows a passage you can only fit through as a snake, while green means it's accessible in human form too.





So, right there, that's a structuring mechanism for the level. When you're a snake, you can enter a separate area that's otherwise unavailable, but you can't jump across the gap to the level exit, on the far right of the first screen, nor can you climb ladders. Since you can go down but not up, you're subtly pushed towards the stone. Because you're trapped until you find the stone, the whole thing has an oppressive bad-trip quality. Being a pit viper, you have can see living things in the dark, which helps you figure out where the paths you can take are... 



...and shows you this "witch" enemy. You're also very fragile and unable to dodge or parry in this form, so most players will be inclined to run away from the enemy, towards the glowing snake passage, which was established by the previous scene as a path you can now take (because a similar passage is the only way out of the abandoned kiva where you transform.) 





As soon as you transform, you can no longer understand human language, adding to the nightmarish feeling of the level. You can understand other snakes now, but they have snake-centric concerns that don't necessarily help you.



There's an ancient altar in the middle of the level, glowing like a living thing, but the obvious passage to it is blocked. That's something optional; I won't spoil that one for you. 



Moustapha specifically says that the stone is "under" the city, so that's another good reason to head straight down, even though the tunnels themselves are nonlinear. The cave where it's located is even specifically called "Under Snake Town" on the loading screen card that pops up when you enter a new area. By giving the player more than one path, but also a clear sense of which direction they're trying to go in general, I want to create a feeling of exploration while mitigating the risk of getting lost and just having to comb every inch of the level for a way forward, a frustrating experience that anyone who plays video games is probably familiar with.



The holy stone, like the altar, is slightly visible in the dark; there's no particular plot reason for this one, it's just to help the player avoid getting lost. If you approach this general area from one side, you see human-built walls instead of the natural walls of the cave, suggesting that there's something beyond them;



and from the other side, you see a tunnel full of bats, signalling that there's a passage over there in the dark. Touching the stone restores the player's human form. 



Now the real challenge starts. When the player takes the stone, a horde of ghosts shows up to defend it, and when those ghosts spawn, a gust of wind puts out the player's torch, if they have one. The ghosts can pass through walls and regenerate from a central point in the level after being killed, so the player should soon figure out that standing and fighting isn't an option here. The player may also notice that they might not want to use a torch at all, since it makes it impossible to hide from the enemies in the otherwise completely dark cave.

The player is likely to realize at this point that they have no idea how to actually get out of Snake Town. If they're resourceful, they'll notice that by exploring the level in human form before they take the stone, they can decide on an escape route, take out some of the defenders, and even set traps. 

This is kind of important: the game never points out that you can do this. The first time the stone restores you to human form, you'll probably take it right away. After a failed escape attempt or two, you might wish you could explore the level with no enemies chasing you. Then you'll realize that you can; no one's stopping you. By giving the player more freedom than they are ever forced to use to make to progress, I'm trying to reward exploration and strategic thinking.



There's an unlimited source of clean water in one corner of the cave, so there's a chance to rest and recuperate here. Unless the player is in danger (signified by the candle flame on the top of the energy meter), they can sleep to regain energy, or make arrows, torches, and magic. Realistically there'd be no arrow material in the cave, of course, but I'm trying to be pretty scrupulous about not wasting the player's time, and making them leave and re-do the whole level just to restock would definitely qualify as a time waster. 





Most of the level is a warren of small rooms and tunnels. When the player is unfamiliar with these, and trying to escape in the dark, they're likely to get turned around or stuck in dead ends, like this misleading structure in the cave, or the top of this ladder in the town. The narrowness of these passages turns them into a deadly shooting gallery when the player is pursued.  But it also means the player's fire magic can block them completely.



Once the player knows the level's layout, they can use it to their advantage by luring enemies into a trap. There are multiple routes the player can take through the level, so it's possible to mislead the enemies onto one path and then follow another, using the darkness or a little bit of cloud magic or even the smoke from the fire as cover. 



The sling comes in handy here; the noise of a rock hitting the wall or floor can pull enemies away from the route the player intends to take. But the sling requires some practice, because a poorly-timed throw will be inaccurate, and in these narrow corridors an inaccurate throw will probably land a lot closer to the player than they intended.



Here's a place where player feedback was important; people were having a lot of trouble finding the exit, which is in a passage that extends further to the right than the rest of the town. I added this beam of light from a crack in the wall to highlight it. Because of the way the game's lighting system works, things like this that are visible in the dark in any context stand out a lot, I hope.



And getting to the exit involves jumping a pit, which requires a tactical choice. The player can memorize where it is in order to clear it in the dark, or they can light a torch and risk being chased.
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« Reply #71 on: September 08, 2016, 03:45:13 PM »

I thought the attack animations looked weird with the player's body being completely still, so I added a little upper body twist:



I wish i'd had a realistic idea of how much of a pain in the ass this cape would be to animate. It really helps the overlaid sprites look integrated and coherent though
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« Reply #72 on: September 08, 2016, 06:13:51 PM »

The cape is worth every bit of pain.
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« Reply #73 on: September 11, 2016, 04:34:52 PM »

Wonderful and concise LD breakdown, really enjoyed reading through - and the game overall continues to impress. Really enjoyed my time with the demo.
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« Reply #74 on: September 11, 2016, 05:15:04 PM »

Very unique and interesting visuals! Looks great!
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« Reply #75 on: September 20, 2016, 07:10:59 PM »

Last Kickstarter repost:

Originally posted 8/16/16 on Kickstarter. The problems described here have been fixed in the current version of the demo.


Hi! Today I'm gonna talk about combat balance and strategy, and give you some more insight into what will be changing with this next update of the demo. 

I think one of the main strengths of Lonely Star is the fast, kinetic, complex combat system. It's something I've poured a ton of effort into over the past few years. I'm a big fan of games that offer something more than novelty, games that still provide a dynamic challenge even when the player knows what to expect. 

So it's kind of a problem that the winning strategy, in any melee fight, is to run away, crouch in place, and hammer the attack button over and over. 



OK-- this is a constant struggle in game development. The developer knows how everything works, knows all the strategies and angles, so, to them, the challenge quickly becomes trivial. Then there's a temptation to keep making the game more and more difficult, and therefore more and more inaccessible to the new player. It's something I have to be careful of. 

Plus, encounters in Lonely Star are usually designed to pose more than one type of threat to the player. In the scenario you see above, if one of the swordsmen's weapons was replaced with a crossbow, they'd just stand back and shoot the player.

But still! This isn't a problem I can afford to ignore. It looks stupid, and more importantly, it's "degenerate"-- a strategy so effective that it destroys the complexity of the game. Go ahead and try it; once you see how well it works, you're probably not going to go back to ducking and dodging.

There's a certain amount of smoke and mirrors to any game like this; by throwing a ton of complexity at the player, it tricks them into thinking that they have to engage with it. Taekwan Kim writes:

What a degenerate strategy does, then, is cut through all the obfuscation to expose the underlying artifice in its starkest form. It reveals the implicit as only being implicit, that the rules only have meaning because the player chooses to submit to their arbitrariness, and chooses to believe in a context in which they aren’t arbitrary.

Especially in a difficult game, the player will be thrilled to find an easy, successful approach, so they'll probably keep using it, even at the cost of making the game boring to themselves. That destroys the game's ability to offer anything but novelty; pretty soon, the player feels like they've solved it, and it's about as compelling as tic-tac-toe.

So the first thing I need to figure out is, what exactly is the problem? Look, it doesn't work if the player is standing instead of crouching: 



A crouching attack has less range, less power, and a longer recovery than a standing attack, and the player can't dodge during it, all of which is balanced by a single very powerful property: it can sweep the enemy's legs and stun them.   

When you play a good singleplayer action game, at least one based on dynamic close-range combat, you'll notice that (at least after the first level or two) the game often pits the player against enemies whose attacks are not interrupted when they are hit by the player. Armored enemies in Lonely Star work the same way, but in the demo, there are no enemies with armored legs, only armored torsos. 

I could fix my problem here by taking out the special properties of the crouch attack. That's not what I want to do, though. Sacrificing a lot of complexity to save whatever's left over doesn't seem like a good approach. The crouching attack works great as a countermove, especially against an enemy with an armored upper body: 



But it's not foolproof. The player has to make sure they're not dodging right into another enemy's attack range, or they'll be helpless during their attack recovery: 



I want to preserve this stuff. So here's what I'm working on instead: 



Two things changed here, and they're both in the enemies' behavior. The crouching attack itself hasn't been changed at all. 

1) I made the enemies aware of their reach advantage. Outside of a few early-game, easy enemy types, there's no reason for them to blunder straight into an attack when they can strike safely from outside that range. 

2) I made the enemies aware that, when the player misses an attack, that's an opportunity to counterattack. If the player misses a standing attack, they can still dodge afterwards; if they miss a crouching attack, they might be out of luck. That keeps the risk-reward balance of the different attacks in check. 

So even if the player has the range advantage, not the enemy...



...the old crouch attack spam strategy comes out neutral, not in the player's favor, because the enemies are at least rudimentarily aware of the rhythm of the battle.

Now this fix makes the game harder, so I've modified a couple of other things to balance it out: 

1) Enemies now may hesitate when they're within striking distance of the player

2) Enemies will hesitate in their approach when the player is swinging a weapon around, even if they're outside of its range. This instinctively makes sense, right? I like that there's a flavor of intimidation to it, a little suggestion of a thinking, feeling consciousness inside those 5x5 pixel skulls, not just an insectile snarl of code. In general, enemies are more prone to hesitation when the player gets aggressive, and more aggressive when the player runs away. 
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« Reply #76 on: October 10, 2016, 02:00:18 PM »

Here is a work-in-progress enemy to show you how these guys work. This one's tentatively named "Guilty Christian" and he's based on 16th-century depictions of demons-- little apelike guys made of mismatched animal parts. If you've played the demo you may have an idea of how they fit into the concept / story. They'll be an intermediate enemy between the easy White Ogres and the tougher "human" ghosts-- using humanlike weapons and tactics, but not shields or armor.



For most enemies, the arm holding their weapon is a separate sprite that gets overlaid on the basic sprite, so they can attack in any direction and hold different weapons/items. For a few of them, like the witches or the witchfinder, their attacks don't involve a weapon or emanate from a fixed spot relative to the sprite, so their whole body is drawn directly on the base sprite.



Here's the spritesheet with the basic idle sprites, 4-directional walk, and flickering frames used when taking damage. Generally, if enemies have a 4-directional walk sprite, they get 4 frames per direction, which looks pretty good but is slightly lower quality than the player character (6 frames per direction).



The white ogre, for contrast, has a 1-directional walk sprite that's flipped when his velocity is negative on the x-axis. This is because it takes more frames to emphasize the weird unique way he moves, but also because he's a more cartoony character with a vaguely-defined torso, so the "shoulder" of his weapon arm can always be directly above the xy coordinates of his sprite.

The demon needs a 4-directional walk because his shoulder is in a noticeably different place depending on the direction he's facing. His weapon arm needs to attach in the same place regardless of whether he's moving or standing still, so it doesn't suddenly change positions in the middle of an attack when he stops or starts moving. Does that make sense?
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« Reply #77 on: October 13, 2016, 11:13:36 AM »

Here's a new, better trailer:





Also a small update to the demo, with better melee animations, better enemy pathfinding, and the difficulty smoothed out a little.

The main gameplay difference is that now, if you and an enemy swing on each other and would hit each other at the same time, your weapons will clash rather than trading damage. (unless one of you is using an unparryable weapon like the knife or whip.) Since neither the player nor the enemies can absorb very many hits before dying, this should make it easier to survive, make battles more dynamic, and generally make the game more skill-based and less attrition-based. It also incentivizes dodging to the side and then counterattacking. Let me know what you think!
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« Reply #78 on: October 14, 2016, 05:49:52 AM »

Dude, that trailer is banging! the music, the action, the text! it all looks good!

I remember actually trying this game and it made me a wee tad emotional, like i could feel the amount of the work that had been put in and how it was put together, aswell as the art. One thing that confused me though was the controls and the combat, so i didnt get that far unfortunately.
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« Reply #79 on: October 14, 2016, 01:17:14 PM »

Oh no i'm sorry you couldn't get into it. What was confusing? Was it just too hard?
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