A decade of Trachi
since I only recently migrated this game to itch.io, I thought it'd be a good idea to bring you up to speed on a few things. If you are interested in reading previous progress reports, feel free check them out on the game's RMN profile.
That being said, let's cover a few cornerstones in the development history of Trachi
It's hard to pinpoint a proper starting point, since the idea of creating this particular fictional world is already more than ten years old, and has gone through a lot of different iterations in the meantime. I think it was 2011 when I first started conceptualizing a few places by writing descriptions, drawing maps and the first locations. Back then, the world looked a lot more different in that it was more aligned to a generic fantasy world. Naturally, works such as Lord of the rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, but also Guild Wars and The Witcher series were a big inspiration to me in that regard.
I think I wrote between two and three hundred pages trying to carve out the key points and dynamics of the world which didn't have a name yet. In fact, I think to this day one of my biggest struggles is coming up with names that are both unique and recognisable, while also being aesthetically pleasing in regards to their logographic and phonetical form. At some point in the future, I will go more into this, since it's a topic that not only interests me privately, but as a linguist also professionally.
In any case though, I was always trying to express my idea through the proper format, and as such did a lot of experimenting with map editors of different games to try and visualize the landscapes I had in my mind. But since I wasn't only interested in drawing static places, I needed a toolkit with which I could convey a narrative, as well.
I had always harboured a big interest in history and a considerable part of my curriculum at university involved completing history classes. However, while historical awareness can be helpful as a neigh unlimited resource to draw , it can also become a problem in the sense that I am very careful in how I present historical circumstances. In other words, I was torn between setting my narrative in the "real'' world and a fictional variation of it. Again, this is something that I will very likely cover in a separate post sometime in the future, since it's a very important aspect to me.
As you might have surmised, I decided to set my story in a fictional world, thus allowing me a much bigger range of artistic freedom. On the other hand however, it also meant that I put the burden of exposition on myself, instead of simply being able to point to a historical segment and merely convey a part of it.
Trachi, first of its name
So when I purchased the RPG Maker VX Ace in 2012, I was faced with the task of putting an entire world into a concrete form that was not only coherent, but also enticing enough for the eventual players to immerse themselves into. By this point, I had already conceptually carved out certain nations and adorned them with distinctive characteristics.
However, the problem remained that I needed to put this into a shape which I as a singular individual could create and then also convey to other people. In other words, I couldn't simply put a player character on a world map and call it a day. On the contrary, what I wanted was to express a highly detailed excerpt of the world in the shape of a structured narrative. I already knew that I wanted to build, among the big nations of the world, a small and independent city-state set between some of them.
So with my very limited knowledge of both coding and game design, I set out to build this city from scratch. I started on a central square that would serve as the central hub and spent between one and two hundred hours playing and struggling with autotiles. There was barely any substance in regards to a narrative, as the majority of my efforts went into mapping. However, certain things that you are able to see now were already in place. For example, I knew that the story would primarily be followed through the eyes of a foreign operative from one of the bigger nations being sent to that particular city, which by that point was already coined Trachi.
After around two hundred and fifty hours spent in RPG Maker, the HDD which I stored the project on, broke suddenly. And with that, all my progress until then had been erased. Naturally, I was super reluctant to start again from scratch. So for the next few years, I spent my time doing anything but game development. I did try to remake the game during short and irregular bursts of motivation, but in the end, the project was on more or less on hold indefinitely.
Round two and a Proagon
However, as much as I could, I wasn't able to shake Trachi from my mind entirely. So when there was a sale on the recently released MV version of RPG Maker, I purchased it instantly and went back to work. I'm not exactly sure when that happened, but it must've been like three or four years ago. Even though the previous iteration had been irretrievably lost, I was still able to draw from the lessons learned during it. Generally, I became very keen to not get bogged down in endless mapping, but instead drive a narrative and then develop the maps based on it.
In other words, I didn't start with the city itself, this time, but instead opted to begin the story with the journey to the city. I also focussed a lot more on the characters and their interaction. At that time, I had recently played through the Trails in the Sky trilogy and was very fascinated with its world building. You can see the traces of that especially in the recently refurbished prologue. In general, I was a lot more efficient with focussing my efforts on not only playing around with ideas this time around, but getting the project to a state where I could actually share it with others.
I was watching Legend of Galactic Heroes during those months as well, and was absolutely enthralled with Tanaka's ability to convey a story involving not only a wide range of characters, but also describe the geopolitical developments within his world. Even though I was initially a bit annoyed at the fact that location and importance of Phezzan was very close to what I wanted the city-state of Trachi to be, I slowly started to take this as an encouragement more than anything else.
So, after one hundred and fifty hours, the first version of the prologue was released in 2019. I was writing my Bachelor's thesis during that time and since I wanted to put the project off my mind for a few months, I spent almost an entire week on playtesting and refining this prologue. Releasing it was a giant step for me, as I was both excited immensely, but also incredibly anxious. However, at that point, I was adamant about publishing the game just so I would be forced to "'own up to it''.
As it often happens after a prolonged break, I didn't really find back into game development for quite some time. So during 2020, I barely worked on Trachi, though I knew for sure that the story would continue, eventually. I did some mapping and a few other things in the meantime but it took me until January 2021 to finally work on Trachi regularly again. Regardless, I had huge troubles fitting my vision of the city into the standard tilesets. Luckily, I stumbled upon the tilesets of "First Seeds Material'' and instantly fell in love. Not only that, but I also discovered the works of Echo Blue, whose music I found very fitting to the theme of Trachi.
Equipped with these new tools, I went ahead and designed the first few portions of the city, while also outlining the broad structure of the story. There were some hiccups here and there, but during the last six months, I worked three times as much on Trachi as I did in the three years before combined. Around three weeks ago, I finally got to the conclusion of the third act and was thus able to focus on playtesting and fleshing out a lot of aspects.
I started uploading the first screenshots of the new city areas and got very encouraging feedback, which led me to revisit the already released prologue in order to make sure that the main game would be a proper continuation of it. This inevitably made me realize the many deficiencies of the prologue and as thus I went back and converted the entire thing to the SFM tilesets, while also revamping most of the music and sound effects. The result of which you are able to finally play now.
As for the main game, I'm still wringing with some aspects of it. I won't go to deep into this, since I'll cover it in a proper status update sometime during this week.
More importantly, for those of you that made it through this wall of text, I want to thank you for reading through all of that. There's much more to tell about the decade I spent on this project, but I'm sure there'll be ample opportunity to talk about these experiences and the lessons learned from them, in the future.
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