We need your help to add Anya and Tawny busts to NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE v5!

Since the release of NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE on Steam on July 9th, we’ve been absolutely blown away by the response from the community – so many streams, tweets, reviews… But also, feedback. One of its major enhancements over prior episodic releases of the game were the character busts of Nina, Dylan and Chad, and you people said you wanted more! But we need YOUR help to make that possible.

Version 5 of the game (the released version is v4) is intended to go out in November. It’s our intent that this update will contain a number of improvements, such as native Linux support, running on an upgraded framework for better performance, and a range of smaller fixes like addressing some typos that slipped through the net on the first release.

However, the biggest change we intend to make is to add busts of Anya Miller & Judge Tawny to the game!

Left-to-right – sketch of Anya, final image of Nina, sketch of Judge Tawny, final image of Chad
These Anya & Tawny images are just initial sketches, but we wanted to give a little preview!

These will include all three of Anya’s outfits (regular clothes, prison jumpsuit and catgirl attire) as well as Judge Tawny in her traditional judge’s robes, and will be completed in a similar style to the Nina, Chad & Dylan busts already present in-game.

These are made by a new artist, working under the guidance from our prior Nina/Chad bust artist, @Koahri1.

Why do you need help?

As always with additional art, the biggest obstacle for NALE is cost; we need to pay for these assets to go into the game.

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE on Steam has made $1115 in revenue to-date, which means we beat our revenue target of $1000 (the budget we spent to get the game ready for release), and had some additional funds to help offset some of our costs. However, we’re at a point now where we’ve made pretty much 0$. We’re “cost neutral”.

Although we’re really happy that we managed to do this, it makes it difficult for us to afford additional features or assets for updates.

NALE has never previously accepted donations. We don’t run a Patreon. We wanted players to be able to support the game by buying the game, so you (and us!) have certainty, when you’re giving us money, that you’re going to get what’s promised.

This is the first time we’ve ever tried to crowdfund anything for the project, but we’re hoping fans are okay with doing this because the end goal is so specific and quantifiable. We hope you’ll be up for this chance to support us and make a tangible improvement to the game (and because we know some of you really love Anya & Tawny’s characters, and have voiced that you’d like to see busts of them).

How do I help?

In order to help pay for this, we’re trying to raise $500 from the community to cover some of the costs of the busts for Anya & Tawny.

You can help us in several ways.

From now until September 30th 2021, all revenue from NALE will go towards this target.

If we hit the target, that means we get the bust set for Anya & Tawny; if we go beyond the target, then we’ll look into adding more characters or some other art improvement. If we miss the target, we’ll still channel the money into NALE art – potentially just doing one character, or some other similar purpose that will improve v5.

To break it down, this means you can do any of the following to contribute:

  • Donate via our Ko-Fi page
  • Buy NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE on Steam if you haven’t already
  • Buy NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE as a gift on Steam for someone else
  • Buy any merch on the NALE Teepublic store

We would really love it if fans considered the “Steam gift” option above, because this is great for twofold reasons – firstly, it contributes to the goal, but it also introduces NALE to whoever you give the gift!

Fans will be able to see our progress towards the goal over on Ko-Fi. The goal auto-magically ticks up when people donate via Ko-Fi, but we’ll also manually edit it to include the support via the other methods above. We’ll also periodically post progress on Twitter.

At present it looks like this:

So we have 7 weeks to raise $500. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading this, and if you’re in a position to contribute, it’d be fantastic if you could help us out. But if you’ve read this far, whether you donate or not, we hope you’re enjoying the Steam release and continue to enjoy it with the upcoming v5!

Artists, do you want to maximise your commission revenue? Then here are 9 ways to secure more commissions!

Are you an artist who produces work via commission? If you are, this article is for you. It’s about how you can increase your revenue by avoiding some of the pitfalls that are probably costing you commissions without you even realising it.

A bit about me, first. I’m Ethan Fox, primary developer at Tanuki-sama Studios, and I’m not an artist. However, I have commissioned quite a lot of artwork over the years, both on Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle and prior projects before forming the studio, and in that time, I’ve seen countless portfolios from artists across the globe who work via commission, and I’ll say right here, right now, plenty of you have ended up on the “no” pile despite being fantastic artists, purely because your portfolios were difficult to find, or navigate, or understand.

And that’s a shame! You’re a talented bunch, and it’s unfortunate that you miss out on commissions this way.

This article is explains some of the reasons why this might happen from a commissioner’s perspective, and how you can fix them. It’s entirely my opinion, however, hopefully you’ll see that all of these suggestions are grounded in reasonable explanations.

None of this stuff is difficult to change, some of it might be controversial, but I assure you, all of it comes from my experience at looking for commissioned art, and it will help you capture those commissions that might otherwise get away.

So without further ado…

1) Place your portfolio somewhere accessible & with no login

No login screens!!

Put yourself in a commissioner’s shoes. You’ve been given a link to look at an artist’s portfolio. You open it, and either right away or before you can scroll, you are hit by a login screen. For the sake of argument, let’s assume you don’t have an account for that service… What do you do?

Do you go back to the artist and kindly ask them to provide you another link? Remember, you’ve got 40 other portfolios to look at.

Most likely you just close it, throw that person on the “no” pile, and move on. It’s sad but true; your time is limited and you can’t waste it on commissioners who don’t meet your needs.

Quick aside here – make sure you always provide a link to your portfolio! Sometimes I’ve had people respond and just say “I can do this commission”, and that’s it… Okay, great. You go on the “no” pile.

If you take anything away from this article, it should be this – do not put your portfolio in a place where a commissioner may need to log in to see it.

This means NO to Instagram.

This means NO to Facebook.

Not saying you can’t have an Instagram or whatever (social networking is important!) but do not make this the primary place you link a commissioner, unless that commissioner contacted you via that service (if they contact you via IG, it’s safe to assume they have IG).

You might be sitting there thinking “but everyone has a Tumblr” or “everyone has IG”… Firstly, no, not everyone has those. But secondly, coverage of services is not the same globally. Relatively few people in the western world have Pixiv or LINE accounts, and people in the Chinese-speaking sphere tend to use different services to outside those countries.

ArtStation, Behance & DeviantArt are fine, if you want to use them – though if you’re doing NSFW commissions, be aware that often people need to login to these services to prove age.

I also strongly recommend Carrd; this is very powerful one-page website creation service which is perfect for one-topic websites like portfolios & profiles (our NALE homepage was made using this).

2) Don’t “fall at the first hurdle”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The commissioner has clicked on your profile, and it didn’t require a login. Great!

The next step is the dreaded “first hurdle”.

This is the first seven seconds in which I have your profile open.

As a commissioner, I often close a portfolio within this short window if I see certain problems.

Don’t make any of the most basic web design mistakes. This should be obvious but it’s worth saying. Your page should have no auto-playing sound or music, have clear, easy-to-read fonts (no cursive or decorative fonts for body text) and no colour clashes. Honestly, “less is more” here; your work should speak for itself (unless you’re taking commissions as a web designer, then go nuts I guess).

Make sure you have no immediately visible work of a very poor quality. That picture of Naruto you scrawled on pencil on lined paper back in middle school? Get rid of it; this isn’t amateur hour. Stick to just your best material (see below, “Be Selective”).

If your portfolio has an excessive amount of pornography, that’s fine (most artists draw porn, that’s just how the art industry works these days) but you should warn the would-be commissioner beforehand (assuming they contacted you from a SFW space; if they got in touch via a Hentai Commissions subreddit then obviously that’s different). If I’m at a public place where I can’t reasonably browse a portfolio like that, I’m going to close your portfolio pretty quick and I might remember it later, but best not to gamble on that.

Try to have things like your terms/prices accessible and obvious; you don’t need to have these visible on your profile on the very front page, but seeing that they exist right away is a real plus.

If you do commissions in multiple fields (e.g. web design, graphic design, character illustration) try to have these split up somehow, such as into different sub-pages/gallery tags, because relatively few commissioners need a generalist; most of them come to your page with something in mind.

3) Consider “the experience” – be their hero

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s a tendency to think that, when a commissioner clicks upon your link, you’re then locked in some kind of war to try and get them to choose you for a commission. I strongly suggest thinking about this a very different way.

As a commissioner, when I click on your link, once you get past those first 7 seconds, I’m on your side. I need your help and I want you to be my hero. When I open your profile, I’m looking for reasons to pick you… And hopefully not see reasons to immediately eliminate you from the running.

But at the same time, I’ve got 40 portfolios to look at and not enough time, so realistically, you’ve got maybe 30 seconds, or roughly how long it takes to ride an elevator, to grab my attention, and every second counts. This is called the elevator test and it’s a pretty well-recognised concept in creative media.

The best way to do this is to ensure you have absolute control of everything on the page.

I strongly recommend that the link to the page you provide to commissioners exists only for that purpose. Many artists do this already, where they might use their DeviantArt as their “anything goes” portfolio, and their ArtStation is their “professional” portfolio, and that’s a good way of dividing stuff up.

There’s one other problem with using services like DeviantArt though; while people are viewing your sample images, they’re being shown similar images by other artists, and there’s always a danger they might get distracted:

This is why it’s best to have your own portfolio site, because then you have absolute control over everything the commissioner sees.

4) Provide examples with your price sheet

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Speaks for itself. A lot of commissioners have a price sheet which looks like this:

  • Sketch $x
  • Flat colours $x
  • Shading $x
  • Anime cel style $x
  • Complex backrounds +$x

This type of breakdown is really useful, but it’s much more useful if each tier has an example of what that means.

Remember, your commissioner might not be an artist, or know very much about art – but everyone can see a picture and point to it, saying “I want this”.

5) Make sure everything’s easy to find

Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

Make sure that it’s very easy for the commissioner to find…

  • Your prices (see above)
  • Your work terms
  • Your contact info
  • Your queue (not absolutely necessary but it’s good to see; I recommend Trello for this)
  • Your delivery ETA for each style (are we talking days, weeks, months…)

You don’t want to miss out on a commission just because these were hard to find.

Please provide prices and work terms, at least – don’t make people email for these if you seriously want commissions.

Also, if you do/do not work on commercial commissions, definitely state this up-front. You can save yourself and commissioners a lot of time.

Finally, try to have something about yourself on the page. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but enough to give a touch of personality. Just saying who you are, your nationality/timezone (also useful info). We’re literally talking the equivalent of a Twitter bio, but it’s enough to make you memorable, which is important when a commissioner is looking through 40 portfolios back-to-back.

6) Set your prices

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

As a commissioner, I won’t spill a great deal of ink here talking about guidance for prices, as that’s a clear conflict of interest. As an artist, you have absolute freedom to charge what you want, and commissioners have the right to refuse an artist on the grounds of price. This is just how things work.

The one thing I will say is that commissioners often evaluate work differently to artists. We look at your work from the perspective of what it means to us, and that affects our perception. If we’re making a videogame, or assets for a streamer or YouTube channel, we’re forced to consider our budget, and our budget is based upon our estimates of lifetime sales or a similar metric.

That means if a developer is making a videogame with lifetime sales expectations of $500, they just can’t hire someone who charges $300 per-image for their CGs, no matter how good their art might be. It’s not necessarily that the artist is charging too much; it’s just that the numbers don’t work for that particular commissioner.

Speaking as a commissioner here, I often walk away from a portfolio while not feeling angry at the artist’s prices, rather, I feel sad that I can’t afford their awesome work.

Does this mean you should lower your prices? No, of course not. You should always charge a combination of what your research suggests your work is worth and what you’re willing to accept/what you need as a creator.

But if you find you’re getting passed up a lot due to cost, it might be worth asking creators why. For example, let’s say in one month you get 10 requests from people who are all looking for VTuber avatar designs, and all of them say they can’t afford your prices – you may want to find out why so many of these people are reaching out to you. It might suggest that where-ever you’re advertising your work, it’s just not the right type of customer for you, and you need to cast a different net.

7) Be selective with your work – “you’re as good as your worst”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

What goes onto your portfolio and what stays off?

Well, only you can make that decision. Obviously, you should put up what shows your work (1) honestly and (2) in a good light.

As a commissioner, when browsing your portfolio, I fixate on the bad images. I can’t help it! But I’m not being mean; there’s a very important reason for this.

If I commission you, realistically, I expect your work to be somewhere between your best and worst images in terms of quality.

The work you turn in might be equal to your best… But it might not be much better than your worst.

So when I commission you, I have to be prepared to accept that if you turn in something similar to your worst image, that I would be happy with this.

At the same time, you should pick work which is representative of your skills, and be reasonably honest with this, because if you turn in bad work (like if your commissions can be clearly far worse than your examples), then obviously people are going to be unhappy with that. You don’t want to disappoint your commissioners.

My main suggestion here is this: be brutal. Ten awesome images are much more useful to see than 20 where 4 of those aren’t so good.

8) Testimonials are useful

Photo by Dayvison de Oliveira Silva on Pexels.com

Something I’ve noticed when looking at portfolios is that very few people seem to list testimonials; this is strange, considering that in some industries, this is really common.

A testimonial might just be as short as…

“Hired this person to produce my channel bumpers. They’re fantastic! Great to work with. Will work with this person again.” Goku_Xx_82, YouTube, 2020

But if you have 3-4 of them, and you can search to find these people, it does a huge amount to make you seem more legitimate. Your work shows what you can make, but testimonials tell people what you’re like to work with. Do you compose yourself professionally? Do you deliver on-time?

9) A humble request

Photo by Charles on Pexels.com

The last thing I want to mention as a commissioner is this:

Please, please, please – only apply for commissions that you can demonstrate you can do.

I’ve lost track of the number of commissions I’ve either posted up on Reddit (or seen posted by other people) where the commissioner says something like…

Must be someone who can do character pieces in traditional media

… and they get 100 responses, where only maybe half them do character pieces OR traditional media.

Look, I get it. You want to cast a wide net. You miss all the shots you don’t take. I understand.

But I can’t speak/read Norwegian, so I wouldn’t apply for a commission to translate Norwegian into English.

I can’t play the violin, so I wouldn’t apply for a commission to write a violin concerto.

If you’re a generalist, maybe you could turn your hand to most things, but as a commissioner, nothing gets me to throw an artist on the “no” pile faster than “this person clearly didn’t read the brief”.

Don’t waste your time, and don’t waste other people’s. It’s simple courtesy.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading. If you’ve got this far, I hope this information proves helpful. If you care enough to read this ramble about portfolios & commissions, I’m sure you’re the sort of person who goes the extra mile for your work, and I hope that some of the stuff here will be useful for you.

Happy commissioning!


Ethan Fox is the owner of Tanuki-sama Studios, creators of Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, Season One over on Steam.

You can follow him at @By_Ethan_Fox on Twitter, or follow @NinaAquilaGame for game updates.

Nina Aquila Fan-Art Reference

Following a bunch of questions about fan-art lately, we’ve decided to place our ref-sheet for Nina art below. Hope this is useful for people, and we can’t wait to see what you make!

Some of the language in the images below is quite strict; obviously, if you’re making fan-art, we’re interested to see your interpretations of Nina, so don’t take this as instructional! This is the ref-sheet we give artists who are making official NALE stuff, so it just provides a reference, if you want it.

Some of the text is mosaic’d out; that was intentional – it contained spoilers.

The image below is compressed; if you need the full-size version please go here: https://imgur.com/aVIO1n7

[NALE launches tomorrow] A personal thank-you

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE′s out TOMORROW, and today, on a “very special episode” of this studio blog, I want to take some time to thank our community.

1,000 days.

That’s roughly how long NALE has been in development, leading up to this Steam release.

A lot can happen in a thousand days.

I got married.

The UK left the EU.

We lived through a pandemic (one that’s still going on!).

I developed and released three chapters of the game, and collected them together into the bumper Steam release coming tomorrow.

You people, many of you, played the games. You left reviews. You left comments. You posted about it to your friends and family. You joined our Discord, followed NALE on Twitter, voted for it on Newgrounds.

And whether you discovered NALE early on through itch.io, or via searching Newgrounds, or maybe got Chapter 2 as part of the giant itchio Black Lives Matter bundle, whether you’ve been here since 2018 or if you found out about the game moments before reading these words and you’re excited to play it for the first time tomorrow…

… you are all an equal part of NALE’s community, if you want to be. You all came with us on this journey, and we appreciate that immensely.

I want to mention some people below who have been a huge influence on NALE’s success. If you’re not named below, please don’t take this as a snub, as that’s not the intention; it would be impossible to name everyone.

HawkZombie & Missylaneous

NALE has been streamed by many people, and I sincerely thank them all – but I wanted to give special thanks to the two of you.

HawkZombie was one of the very first streamers to carry NALE, and watching them play the game was a surreal experience for me; having never watched someone do a complete playthrough before.

Missylaneous did an amazing job with her playthrough, which caused a noticeable uptick in our traffic; they’re also fantastically entertaining.

Thank-you.

Arcturus64

This person volunteered with the huge task of recording large amounts of video footage of NALE for the chapter trailers; really I can’t explain how much this helped me, as it freed up time for development that I would’ve otherwise had to spend recording good-looking playthroughs.

Arcturus64, thanks for your help.

& The NALE Beta Testers

Our Discord server has a subgroup of volunteer testers who found literally hundreds of bugs that we were able to resolve for both the chapter and Season One releases. Many of these were things I could never have found myself, even if I’d played the game for years.

  • Autumn Leaves
  • BuckytheDucky
  • CamCam the Legalese Queen
  • Derp
  • Doctor Joshua
  • doobes
  • Gui
  • IllegalLoli
  • iornhide132
  • Lulink
  • retroPacifist
  • SentientViolin
  • srime
  • Tempest
  • Sebastian
  • Arashi
  • Scarlet
  • Swansong
  • Andrew
  • Dlanor

All of you, thank-you.

The communities of itch.io and Newgrounds

This can’t be overstated; with all your reviews and comments… When I uploaded NALE originally, to both platforms, I honestly didn’t expect much. I mean if you upload a book to Amazon Kindle and don’t support it, it sinks without a trace like gently dropping a brick in a lake.

In both cases, the response I got from the community was warm, welcoming and, well, there. I couldn’t believe the number of reviews that kept coming in each week, month, and, eventually, year!

Each and every one of you is part of NALE’s success. Thanks a bunch.

Sam Ferreira

Sam is the editor of Anime Herald, and runs their Discord of which I’m a member. However, more importantly, she’s an incredibly supportive soul who gives so much back to her community, as well as a very creative person in her own right.

Sam, thanks for all your edits to my press-releases. You’re amazing.

Starwulfen

Starwulfen is one of the moderators of our Discord server, so many fans will have had contact with her at some point.

Starwulfen is my longtime friend and was one of the first fans of my work. She read through both my books in beta form and the final versions, before I moved onto NALE, and she’s always gone as far as they could to help me get the message of the game out to other people.

More than that, they’re a fantastic person, who in my experience never fails to bring happiness to any room that she’s in.

Starwulfen, you’re an important part of NALE’s success and I can’t thank you enough.

My wife

I saved the one most vital until last. I won’t labour this point (the wedding speech did that!) but my wife is my friend, my partner, my cheerleader, my sounding board, and an endless source of encouragement.

And thanks for understanding about the thousands of hours I’ve spent in our back room, hunched over my desk.

Wrapping up

I’m signing off.

Thanks, once more, all of you, for your help so far.

Launch tomorrow. Let’s see if we can crush it.


Thanks for reading this!

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE will be released on Steam TOMORROW!

We’re inviting players to WISHLIST the game now; just click here and hit the “Add to my Wishlist” button!

We’re marking the run-up to launch with a range of daily blogposts about many different topics relating to NALE, such as how we achieved certain things in the editor, character bios and even a giveaway, which you can enter now over on Twitter!

Finally, if you’re a fan of the game, make sure you join our newsletter (and get a free pack of high-res NALE backgrounds for desktop displays & mobile devices).

And we hope to see you TOMORROW over on Steam!

[2 Days to launch] NALE’s Artists

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE′s out in 2 days, and today we’re celebrating several of the wonderful artists that have helped bring the game to life with their key art & CGs!


NALE, as most fans will know, was made with RPG Maker MV, and uses a great many assets that form part of that program’s libraries of sprites. This was actually one of the reasons why I created the game in MV in the first place. I have some background in industrial graphic design, however, I am not an illustrator, nor an artist, and didn’t believe I could make a compelling VN in the traditional style, as character art is so important in that medium.

NALE’s first prototypes. Note the older costume for Nina & Chad, and the early design for Dylan.

MV’s top-down perspective allows the characters to move, to “act”, like characters in a movie or a play, without needing enormous amounts of art – at least to start with. This meant that I would be able to prove out the concept, and artwork would come later.

NALE’s original cover image from 2018, using an edited RPGM headshot

All of this, ultimately, was to keep costs to a minimum (practically zero). The plan was that NALE’s first chapter would, initially, only have stuff I could source or create myself, with as few commissioned assets as possible; that way, if the game hadn’t really sparked much interest from fans, I could’ve just parked it as a fun curio, and carried on with the project in this manner.

However, the game was an immediate success in terms of itchio traffic, so I decided to “think bigger”, and that put me in touch with NALE’s first and longest-standing artist, @Koahri1 on Twitter.


Koahri1

Koahri was originally commissioned for a couple of pieces of “key art”, and given a brief, largely based on the sprites and a moodboard of relevant images. This produced the first Nina design, which we now refer to as “Legacy Nina”:

This was the design that was used in NALE’s chapter-based releases. I still remember receiving the first versions back, and feeling elated at how much personality they had managed to elicit from the reference. These are actually a revision; very first version of each was much slimmer, leading me to clarify with the artist that Nina was a plus-size character. Time and budget didn’t allow for a second round of illustrations, but Koahri was able to make some changes to make her curvier.

It didn’t quite fit the character perfectly, however, the quality of the work itself was high, and we’d made so many creative compromises in development of NALE that we decided to move forward with what we had, in the hope we might get to revisit this in the future.

This is actually what we mean when we say that Nina was always visualised as plus-sized character. Fortunately, the success of Chapters 1-3 allowed us to come back to this for Season One.

Nina’s key art in Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, Season One

This is the revised version of each of these poses, reworked to give Nina the plus size appearance that was always intended. These are quite similar to the above poses, but are far higher quality (this is a small image, but these images are gigantic, with so many little details – which was important, as they’re often seen in-game in a very zoomed-in fashion).

Koahri also created the images of Nina seen in the racing mode as well as the busts for Nina & Chad which are used in the Season One release:

Again, totally nailed it. We haven’t even revealed all of these in the pre-release material; you’re going to love what some of these expressions look like in-game.

Koahri1 can be found on Twitter


NALE’s development has been a long process, with requirements for art popping up at different times – and, honestly, it hasn’t always been smooth. Many, many times we’ve had to revise what we wanted to do in-game to work around the cost of art, reworking sequences to reduce the amount of bespoke images that we need. Also, this means that when we need art, people’s availability varies, and this lead to us working with multiple artists for the project.

This led to us working with NeoLucky.


Neolucky

Neolucky is a fantastically talented artist from the US, who has produced two very important pieces for NALE.

One of them will be well-known to existing players; the image of Nina which appears on the loading screen in-game:

We were so happy with what they delivered for this. For the “night” image of Nina, we wanted something that showed Nina in her sleeping attire; but at the same time, we wanted the overwhelming concept to be “cute”, not “sexy”, as well as carrying the idea that Nina is a person with which people can hopefully identify. She doesn’t “have it all together”, but she’s doing her best. I really feel they delivered on this, as well as introducing the world to Gordito’s, the Fledge City Setting’s ubiquitous snack.

Neolucky also produced another very important image; however this image forms the final moments of Chapter 3, and as a result, I won’t share it here for spoiler reasons! But we’ve had fans reach out and say it’s one of their favourite moments of the game, and their art plays a huge part in that.

Neolucky has a website


When it came time to produce the busts for Season One, time-constraints forced us to bring on another commissioned artist, Omi B. Gamboa.


Omi B. Gamboa

Omi came along at the perfect time. With the deadline for the Season One release looming, we needed to bring someone in to work on Dylan’s busts, and they did a fantastic job in a very taxing timescale.

Dylan has two costumes (his regular biker attire, and a school uniform outfit), and they did a great job with each. This was difficult, because prior to the creation of these busts, we’d had very few Dylan images made, so Omi had to work off their own interpretation and my not-an-artist input.

Omi has an Instagram.


This is just a sampling of the art featured in NALE. For instance, we commissioned SluggishSnail to produce the end-of-chapter-2 image, which I won’t post here as it’s a massive spoiler – but they did a fantastic job, and we hope new fans will love seeing it when it pops up in-game.

NALE’s art is really important. From the very first pieces, I’ve worked hard to find people I can commission to produce the high-quality assets needed for the characters, and in return, these people have brought their awesome talents to bear in bringing them to life. They’re a huge part of NALE’s success, and I encourage people to check out the links above, and maybe ask for some commissions!


Thanks for reading this!

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE will be released on Steam on July 9th!

We’re inviting players to WISHLIST the game now; just click here and hit the “Add to my Wishlist” button!

We’re marking the run-up to launch with a range of daily blogposts about many different topics relating to NALE, such as how we achieved certain things in the editor, character bios and even a giveaway, which you can enter now over on Twitter!

Finally, if you’re a fan of the game, make sure you join our newsletter (and get a free pack of high-res NALE backgrounds for desktop displays & mobile devices).

Come back tomorrow for a blogpost about NALE’s “Fledge City setting”, the fictional world in which the game takes place.

And we hope to see you on July 9th over on Steam!

[3 Days to launch] Nina Aquila: A Profile

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE′s out in 3 days, and we’re running daily blogposts in the run-up to launch! Today, it’s time to learn a bit more about our leading lady, Nina Aquila!

(Note: This page contains minor spoilers for Chapters 2 & 3 of NALE Season One)

Most of Nina’s key art was commissioned from @Koahri1 on Twitter; check out their work, they’re amazing

As the titular character, players step into Nina’s shoes during all of NALE, or at least, all of NALE that has been seen so far.

Nina was was born in Canada, but she’s also an orphan, and doesn’t know a great deal about her formative years. Some of her earliest memories are of her living with her American adoptive parents. As a result, she has lived in the US for most of her life and is, at present, an American citizen. Academically bright from a young age, Nina was inspired during her adolescence to become an attorney, though she probably didn’t anticipate how this would come about.

When we step into her life at the start of Chapter I, Nina was in the midst of her final supervised case under the watchful eye of Anya Miller; however, events took a dark turn after Anya was accused of a crime, and left her business, Miller Defense & Law, in Nina’s hands after she went to prison.

Between Chapters I and II, Nina struggled to find case-work due to Anya’s incarceration affecting her office’s reputation. Soon, the wolf was at the door, and Nina struggled to pay rent on her apartment. Fortunately, her office’s rent was low, due to it being in one of the city’s oldest buildings; this allowed her to move out of her apartment and into the office in order to make ends meet. 

Nina made the difficult decision to rename the office to Aquila Defense & Law, but still saw no cases until Dylan Merlo came to her door, asking her to take Terry Scrubb’s case, inciting the events of Chapter II.

Nina is a memorable figure, even in a place the size of Fledge City, due to her thick, waist-length white hair, and the eyepatch she wears over her right eye. Less obvious to those who only see her fleetingly are the small chunk missing from her right ear, and some rosy scarring on the right side of her face. Nina styles her hair to conceal these a bit, as in the past, people have “recognised” her from these injuries, for reasons that have not yet come up in NALE’s story.

Even eagles need to sleep. This piece was created by Neolucky.

Nina is a tad anxious, and can be quite self-conscious and introspective. She’s messy, slobbish (apart from on court days, where she always turns out impeccably) and disorganised. She’s easily embarrassed, not a “morning person”, and also quick-to-anger and easily riled. Also, she’s not always the best “people person”, though this makes Dylan her ideal PA, with his early-rising, highly organised, congenial personality.

However, the chaos of Nina’s life has imbued her with many skills.

She’s a master improvisor. Nina is great at seeing the big picture made up by the small details that others would often miss, and being able to think-on-her-feet when the going gets tough.

She’s also something of a situational alchemist, always able to make something from nothing. Nina’s a survivor. She’s been through some dire times, much more than Dylan knows, and she can live through things that would make others despair.

Finally, Nina may not always be the easiest person to be friends with, but she’s dedicated to her clients. She understands that the courtroom can be a scary place for those unaccustomed to it, and she does everything in her power to make sure her clients know that, when all is said and done, she will stand by them, no matter what.

It was this last quality that led Nina to her current, precarious position; for Nina has become aware of a great game being played for the soul of Fledge City, by powerful forces. It was suggested to her that she might be a “player” in this game, but Nina realises that right now, she doesn’t even know the rules.

Nina will need all her courage if she’s to investigate further, uncover the truth and fight for justice.

In Practical Terms

The above is Nina’s narrative profile, but Nina’s design also served a practical purpose with the game – Nina is the player’s point of contact with the story; they witness and interact with the events from her perspective.

In writing terms, NALE can be considered as “third person limited”, in that the game is looked upon with a third-person perspective, but we are limited to Nina’s thoughts and feelings. Nina’s inner monologue can tell the audience what she’s thinking, how she’s feeling – but we have to pick up on the inner thoughts of the other characters through interpreting what they do and say.

This approach meant that making Nina a slightly chaotic, anxious, disorganised person seemed to be a good approach, as it allows her thoughts to be interesting, even funny. Her improvisational nature allows her thinking to turn on a dime, so when the facts “fall into place”, hopefully this is around the time that this also happens for the player – as opposed to playing a character who plays a 4D chess-game where they’ve figured out everything in advance.

At the same time, while NALE involves many stories, the “spine” of the game is Nina’s own journey, and like all fictional characters, Nina couldn’t start out as a legal mastermind who is adept at Xanatos Gambit, or that wouldn’t give her anywhere to go.

Each of the long-form NALE chapters, therefore, has to provide Nina a character arc of some sort. Chapter II’s arc was about whether Nina can grow beyond her perceived mistakes, and pick herself up after a costly fall. Each chapter actually starts life by identifying what this arc will be, and this informs a great deal of the narrative.

Nina in-game is voiced by Rachael Messer; while NALE isn’t a fully spoken game, we have samples for Nina making various shouts and exclamations, mainly in the court segments. Rachael has worked on a variety of high-profile anime & game dubs, most recently voicing Enterprise in Funimation’s Azur Lane dub. Currently in addition to dubbing work, she teaches voice-acting; you can find out more about her work here.


Thanks for reading this!

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE will be released on Steam on July 9th!

We’re inviting players to WISHLIST the game now; just click here and hit the “Add to my Wishlist” button!

We’re marking the run-up to launch with a range of daily blogposts about many different topics relating to NALE, such as how we achieved certain things in the editor, character bios and even a giveaway, which you can enter now over on Twitter!

Finally, if you’re a fan of the game, make sure you join our newsletter (and get a free pack of high-res NALE backgrounds for desktop displays & mobile devices).

Come back tomorrow for a blogpost about NALE’s “Fledge City setting”, the fictional world in which the game takes place.

And we hope to see you on July 9th over on Steam!

PRESSKIT — “Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, Season One”


This page is a short-form summary of all press-relevant information about NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE, as well as a source of press-friendly assets.

Key Links

NALE’s presence online is primarily based in the following places:

(please drop the Steam link as the primary place to funnel readers in coverage)

Relationship between chapter and episodic releases

Generally, now that the Steam version exists (and especially around launch), we would like coverage to focus on this, and not to focus as much on the older chapter-based releases. The chapter-based releases will remain available, but we no longer advertise them.


Style Guide, Terms & Visual Assets

Styled in text as

Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle, Season One

 Styled visually as below:

Please do not flip Nina’s images laterally, as the eye-patch must always be over her right eye.

Characters:

  • Nina Aquila (left)
    • [Biography]
    • Age: 24
    • Occupation: Defense Attorney for Aquila Defense & Law
  • Chad Hawke (NPC, right)
    • [Biography]
    • Age: 28
    • Occupation: City Prosecutor (Nina’s courtroom rival)

The above image can also be considered a source of the colour palette used in the branding.

Terms:

  • Aquila Defense & Law — Nina’s business.
  • Fledge City – The location in which the game takes place
    • The Fledge City Setting – The fictional universe in which the game takes place
  • Touge Janken Racing — The fictional race discipline practiced by the Rostro Racers in Fledge City; derived from “Touge” (Japanese mountain pass racing) and “Janken” (Japanese for rock-paper-scissors)
  • Rostro Spire — the mountain on which the racers race, tallest in the region
  • Rostro Racers — the group of illegal street racers
  • Dragon Fantasy — A fictional videogame that exists in the world of NALE. Made by “Circlesoft”. Broadly a mashup of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.
  • Dragon Fantasy Arena — A fictional trading-card game based upon the Dragon Fantasy videogames. Resembles several real-life games.

Assets:

Transparent logo image:

When using on dark backgrounds, it is acceptable to give this logo a white outline layer effect.

Key Art & Character Assets (click to get larger versions)

Screenshots:


Launch Press Release Copy

– For release on/after noon PDT, July 9th 2021 –

STEAM, JULY 9th, 2021 — Tanuki-sama Studios is happy to announce the launch of NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE for Windows via Steam!

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1547290/Nina_Aquila_Legal_Eagle_Season_One/

This new release collects together and enhances all existing chapters of the popular ongoing indie graphic adventure/visual novel hybrid videogame series, Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle — an Ace Attorney-like game which takes place in a world where all anime genres exist at once.

The collection includes ~10 hours of content, in which players take on the role of Nina Aquila, a rookie defense attorney, as she represents clients accused of capital crimes. In it’s three-faceted gameplay, players will INVESTIGATE the crimes (examining crime scenes and speaking to witnesses), PARTICIPATE in activities relevant to the case (such as illegal street racing) and finally, step into court and DEFEND their client in the manner of a courtroom drama visual novel.

  • In Chapter 1, players defend a cosplayer accused of arson, due to her cosplaying as a fire mage
  • In Chapter 2, players defend a client accused of murdering the world champion at Dragon Fantasy Arena (a card-game similar in concept to Yu-Gi-Oh) on the eve of the national tournament
  • In Chapter 3, players defend three street racers, accused of causing the death of a fourth, in a homage to the classic mountain-road racing anime Initial D

NALE has previously appeared on services such as Newgrounds & Itchio in an episodic format (starting in winter 2018), where the releases have garnered praise, with Chapter I receiving “Best of November 2020” on Newgrounds and a 5-star review score on itchio from over 200 user reviews.

This new collected release is significantly enhanced over the original episodic releases. Enhancements include a wide variety of audiovisual and feature improvements, including new character art, more & higher quality speech samples, reworked video sequences, Steam Achievements, an unlockable explorer mode and many more! This is the definitive NALE experience for both existing and new fans alike.

Veteran anime & gaming voice actor Rachael Messer (Azur Lane, Goblin Slayer, Forgotten Anne) provides the voice of Nina Aquila, the protagonist.

The game will release for a regular price of $8.99 — with an initial 15% discount.

Additionally, a free demo will launch alongside the game’s release.

A full presskit has been uploaded to this URL for media use: https://tanukisamastudios.wordpress.com/2021/07/06/presskit-nina-aquila-legal-eagle-season-one/


Fact Sheet

  • Around 10 hours of content spread over 3 chapters, with Chapters 2&3 making up the bulk of that time
    • Chapter 1 is ~1 hour in length, and is given away free as the game’s demo. This is mostly a tutorial, only consisting of courtroom segment
  • For Windows platform
  • Aimed at adults, but not “adult-only” (i.e. light in tone, no overt sexual scenes or gratuitous violence; some minor nudity is present though in a humorous, not-sexual context)
  • Story is fixed around a courtroom drama at its core, players investigate to find clues to exonerate their client
  • The overworld of Fledge City, which the player must traverse between key locations, is pseudo-3D using a mode-7 style presentation
  • Three facets to the NALE experience
    • Investigate crime scenes & speak to witnesses
    • Participate in activities to get access to places/people with key evidence
    • Defend your client in court
  • Players must participate in various activities to progress, including…
    • Dragon Fantasy Area, a pseudo-TCG battle system unique to NALE
    • Touge Janken Racing, a turn-based racing system with mode7-style visuals
  • Bookended presentation, with an anime-esque “OP” opening sequence and ending sequence
  • Cutscenes and pacing similar in feel to an episodic anime
  • A wide cast of characters with their own motivations and backstories
  • Written by a successful indie author branching out into interactive storytelling
  • Created using RPG Maker MV, with extensive custom scripting and significant additional artwork and assets
  • 720p native resolution (scales to screen size)
  • Accessibility features — NALE incorporates a suite of features to improve accessibility for users who are photosensitive and various other conditions; more info on this can be found HERE

Useful press facts/talking points:

  • Developed “on a shoestring budget”, as a passion project by Tanuki-sama Studios, which is an outfit run by solo developer Ethan Fox – though artwork/assets/plugins/voice work present in the game are commissioned from other creatives (listed in the credits)
  • Created as a homage to various courtroom drama games & other fiction, as well as a variety of different anime genres
  • The Touge racing theme is inspired by Ethan Fox’s years living in Gunma-ken, the real location in which Initial D is based
  • Frequently #1 in itchio’s charts of web-based visual novels and HTML5 interactive fiction, frequently in the top 10 for other categories such as visual novels in general and games made using RPG Maker, rubbing shoulders with titles such as Doki Doki Literature Club
  • Chapter 1 has been played over 50,000 times by visitors on itchio & Newgrounds, while Chapters 2&3 have seen significant success on itchio
  • 5-star rating for all chapters in over 200 reviews
  • Added to the British Library’s archive of notable examples of Britsh-made interactive fiction in 2019

About Rachael Messer

Rachael is an industry veteran, recently voicing Enterprise in Funimation’s Azur Lane dub. She has a long history of dub roles in both anime & videogames, including Paladins, Warframe, Akashic Records, Princess Principal, Knight’s & Magic, A Centaur’s Life, Infinite Dendogram and the remake of System Shock.

Ethan originally contacted Rachael after hearing her performance as the protagonist in Forgotten Anne, by Square-Enix, believing her voice would be perfect for the role.

About Tanuki-sama Studios

Tanuki-sama Studios is an indie videogame developer, based in the UK, owned and managed by the solo developer Ethan Fox, who came to the Visual Novel space from a Kindle author background.

Ethan’s games draw upon his past experiences living in Japan, as well as a lifelong love of anime & manga. This season, he is watching Fruits Basket and To Your Eternity.

NALE was conceived as a way to create a narrative experience that has plotting, pacing and direction similar to that of watching an anime show, as well as serving as a homage to multiple anime genres. TSS’s ambition is to see NALE realised as a fully-fledged anime production.

Where to find more info


Narrative Blurbs

Chapter 1 – “First Flight”

When Nina Aquila, freshly qualified defense attorney, takes part in her last supervised trial, she sets events in motion that will cause her career to become a casualty of a secret war. A great game is being played for the heart of Fledge City by the ruthless and powerful, one that Nina will have to uncover one case at a time.

Step into court and defend a young woman cosplaying as a fire mage, who stands accused of arson! In this trial, Anya will show you the ropes of how NALE works, while setting events in motion that will change Nina’s life forever.

Chapter 2 – “Broken Wings”

Several weeks after Chapter I, Nina’s life is in turmoil after a costly defeat in court. Her confidence shattered, Nina holes up in her office until a visitor comes to the door – one who believes that only she can help him. A murder has been committed at the High Flyers Casino. The victim? A celebrity player of a trading card game, “Dragon Fantasy Arena”, on the eve of the national tournament!

Who would commit murder over a children’s card game? And why?

Surrounded by hot-blooded heroes and dastardly cosplaying villains, Nina will need all her cunning if she’s to make the best of a bad draw… Or her client’s going to be sent to the graveyard!

Chapter 3 – “Legal Stage”

Following on from Chapter II, Nina and Dylan have been looking into the events surrounding a key trial and arrest, but the volume of evidence is huge, and weeks have already passed without any leads. Still, Aquila Defense & Law is a business, and when a person calling himself “The Jack of Diamonds” comes to the door in the middle of the night, Nina and Dylan are forced to take up his case.

Something is wrong up in the mountains. Shockwaves are ringing through the world of Fledge City’s illegal street racing scene: Clara Mass, longtime racer and “The Ace of Spades” has been murdered during a race, and several other racers stand accused of the crime! The fragile truce between the street racing groups is being stretched to breaking point, and police involvement threatens to end mountain road racing once and for all!

Now, Nina and Dylan must journey north of the streets of Fledge City to the snow-covered passes of The Rostro Spire, the tallest mountain in the region, to search for answers amid the high-octane sub-culture of Touge Janken Racing…

… but some truths can only be found in the heart of the drift!


Contact & Further Info

Ethan Fox can be contacted at tanukisamastudios AT gmail DOT com. Press enquiries are particularly welcome over the few weeks before/after release.

[4 Days to launch] How we created NALE’s card-game sequences in RPG Maker MV

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE is out in 4 days, and we’re continuing our daily blogposts in the run-up to launch! Today, Ethan’s going to shed some light on how we created NALE Chapter 2’s card-game sequences, for the fictional game Dragon Fantasy Arena.

NOTE: before I get into this; this one’s aimed at people who are interested in RPG Maker, or game development. It might be a bit “dry” for a general-interest audience.

Origins

With NALE Chapter 2 being themed around a fictional card game, I realised early on that for it to work, I really needed to give players some sort of version of the card game to play.

External to NALE, I wanted something which could broadly act as a homage to “collect and battle” anime, of which card-gaming anime like Yugioh and Duel Masters are a part, but also other shows with similar tropes and themes, like Gundam Build Fighter and even Pokemon.

Internal to the game, this would serve two purposes; to help draw the players into the narrative by making the activity something they do as opposed to just see, but also, to approach “conflict resolution via combat” scenes in a wider storytelling context.

On the highest level, for NALE as a project, I wanted something like this to form part of every full chapter (Chapter 1, being something of a tutorial chapter, would not have one, but others would). As this was the first run at this, I knew Chapter 2 would set some standards that the rest of the chapters would follow, so it was important to get an idea of what I needed the card fights to do, narratively.

Card games as fight scenes and conflict resolvers

Card games in anime are, effectively, fight scenes.

“Fight scenes”, “Chase scenes”, i.e. action scenes which illustrate conflict in movies aren’t just a fancy display of martial arts. I mean, they can be… But for particularly good movies, or books, or anime, or anything, they’re a conversation. They pitch multiple characters against each other and have them use “the arcane”, be that martial arts, the ability to pilot a fighter jet, or even a card game as a way for the characters to reach each other.

Musicians to perform in Enter The Dragon-style hall of mirrors
“Remember, the enemy has only shadows and images. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy.”
Enter the Dragon, final fight scene

Some of the classic fight scenes in various media demonstrate this. The “conversation” doesn’t always involve words; sometimes it’s about providing character growth purely through actions. Anime is somewhat infamous for the “talking during a fight” cliche; personally this always makes me think of the Guld/Isamu fight near the end of Macross Plus, where the two of them literally argue while fighting each other.

The Ultimate Valgern-On Showdown | Muv Luv Extra - Sumika's Route - Part 7  - YouTube
Muv Luv Extra took a unique approach to this, in that the characters play a game called Valgern-On which, I’m pretty sure, was intended as a “serial numbers filed off” version of Virtual On, a Sega arcade game. In MLE you don’t even actually play the game, but limited stills of matches play, with animated UI, to feel like you are. This was a pretty clever approach to make it feel like a game was present in the plot, but saved them having to make an actual game.

Anyway, the way this pertains to NALE was that I wanted to make sure that in any fight scenes, card games included, they had to provide the tools, first and foremost, for characters to have this conversation – to “banter”. The games are narratively driven, being a VN of sorts, so everything else kinda comes back to this.

High Level Goals

As always with NALE stuff, I started off by defining some high-level goals and working from that slate. I knew that the mode had to do several things:

Facilitate the character’s banter, and make it possible to tell story through the battles (see above).

Be turn-based, i.e. not require any twitch skill; this is a high level goal for all of NALE, for accessibility reasons. So-far nothing in the games has required twitch skill; if anything ever does, I want to make that optional.

Have a simple “always win” mode, another high-level goal for all of NALE, as the games are primarily driven by their story, and if a player doesn’t want the challenge (and just wants to play through) then I want to make that possible.

Be simple to understand & tutorialise themselves; I wanted the modes to be straightforward, and not require an extensive tutorial other than giving players the most basic information.

Be visually interesting, i.e. to be distinct from the rest of the game, either the investigation or court gameplay.

Above all is narrative – more of a guideline; the supreme understanding that the battles are a narrative tool, and features shouldn’t detract from that.

Note what’s not in the above list. The card game would need to be themed like a game, but it would not need to be capable of standing alone as a game; it exists to be part of the story. This relates to how “fun” the game is, also; it needed to be fun, of course, but fun for people who are engaged with the narrative; it didn’t exist for the purpose of entertaining those who otherwise don’t enjoy the game.

Armed with this, I moved onto prototyping.

Prototyping

The version of the card game in NALE is actually the third version of the mode overall.

I created a new project in MV, and worked in that, rather than in the main project, with the intent to copy/paste maps etc. over later. This ended up being a very useful practice which I’ll preserve going forwards, as it made it easier to throw stuff away which didn’t work.

Prototype 1 looked like this:

Fans will recognise something akin to Yugioh here. The idea was that players play cards in the top/bottom rows, and they would move around, a bit like an SRPG like Fire Emblem. I tried a few variants, such as having the players in the middle top and middle bottom segments, so cards could attack them. The swirls on the right were lives/health.

This, however, created a few problems, the main one of which was its verticality, which wasn’t good for cutscenes (in adversarial scenes, as players are likely on a widescreen display, a landscape approach tends to work better). But moreover, it was complicated; it was going to require a lot of bespoke animation to make this feel good with eventing logic, and soon, I scrapped the idea.

The second approach was more conceptual, and similar to Muv-Luv‘s example above, in that there would be no proper game, but just a few choices during each match. This led to the creation of the first version of NALE’s card-game arena, the final version of which features in the finished chapter.

This satisfied many of the requirements of the list, but after creating a proof-of-concept… It just felt a bit empty. I thought it could be better, and that led onto version 3.

For this, I took a different approach; I mocked out a doodle of how I wanted it to look, and then set about creating a very rough version in MV. Within a few weeks, I had this:

Fans will recognise some of the key elements from the final game, and once I had this, whilst it was slow and buggy, I knew that this was the approach I’d be taking.

Implementation

So how does it work?

NALE Chapter 2’s battle system uses MV’s battle system; that’s probably obvious to most people. However, in order to wrap MV’s battles into the card game rules required a lot of engineering.

For starters, the battles alone required many plugins:

But it wasn’t just about plugins; the bulk of the system is performed via in-editor eventing.

For those familiar with MV (and RPGs in general), on its most basic level, I wanted to pitch the player against an enemy, who was also effectively a player (with player-like stats), and have both the player and enemy summon creatures to fight each other,

Unfortunately, this was much more difficult than I originally anticipated.

MV, to my knowledge, has no “clean” way of getting a player character to fight a player character; like it makes a distinction between party members (i.e. player characters) and creatures (enemies), and it’s just not designed to screw around with this distinction.

To resolve this, I used a trick that ended up being very expensive.

Nina is a party member. When a battle starts, the script strip Dylan out of the party (and put him back when it ends).

Nina’s summoned creatures are also party members in the database, i.e. a party member character exists for every creature she can summon. These are removed from the party when killed.

The enemy duellist is a creature, with stats that closely mirror those of Nina.

The enemy duellist’s summoned creatures are actually creatures which are added to the enemy troop when summoned, and removed from it when killed.

In practical terms the creatures (both Nina’s and the enemy’s) use the same sprites, so the distinction isn’t clear, but this is actually how it works. This creates a big problem, because party members and creatures work very differently, so the state flow for each side is different. In short, this means that there are two entirely different solutions for…

  • Can Nina/the enemy summon a creature in a given slot, and the logic for enabling/disabling their abilities so they can’t perform illegal moves
  • Actually summoning/spawning the creature in the given slot
  • Detecting when the creature is dead and culling it, and freeing up the slot on the “board”

… essentially meaning that I had to implement all of these things twice.

This is where the plugins come in; they’re mainly involved with the spawning logic, the skill check logic (to prevent players making illegal moves), stuff like that.

There was also a fair bit of work to make sure that the damage etc. worked okay, because the formulae for each side was different (in practice, the damage numbers of creatures were randomised a few % to conceal that Nina’s creatures are slightly stronger).

As these states were so confusing, I actually had to create a testbed that would run battles for over an hour at high speed, so I could come back and see if the logic had broken down; it took about a week to plug all the holes, but eventually it was ship-shape.

Once I had this in place, it was quite straightforward to create the various duellists Nina would face, and the abilities she would gain. They all fit within the framework. The battles themselves were designed to be quite easy to finish (e.g. a red player who only summons red monsters); again, it was all about facilitating the narrative.

Visuals

Once the scripting was in place, I moved onto visuals.

First, I had to deal with branding, as I wanted Dragon Fantasy Arena to feel like a card game, as a homage to several real games – so I created the card-backs and logos, which feature in a number of places.

The inspiration here is easy to see, but that’s the point. Often, the cards in-game are tiny, tiny sprites, so I needed this to be very obvious. There’s no room for subtlety on a card that’s 8 pixels tall.

Additionally, when summoning creatures, I wanted to give the impression that the players Ire laying cards onto the field. To do that, I created an effect:

This animation is used for summoning red cards; blue and green cards have their own similar animation.

The next major job was an overhaul of the backdrops to reframe the action.

I’m not the biggest fan of RPGMMV’s battle backdrop method; instead I created fullscreen images, and played around with the UI and framing in order to try and create something a bit more exciting.

This also allowed me to raise/lower elements to keep the top/bottom of the screen free for the text boxes that would convey the story in several of the battles.

However, I didn’t totally reinvent the wheel. As NALE uses a great many modern RTP sprites, I stuck with a lot of this art, due to an in-world conceit – that Dragon Fantasy Arena is, in the Fledge City setting, based on that world’s most generic JRPG behemoth brand, Dragon Fantasy, a homage to Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, so “generic JRPG” was what we were going for, and the art fit the bill.

Accessibility

I wanted to try and maintain accessibility as much as possible, as per the original goals – so the game requires no twitch skill.

There’s also a “cinematic mode” that players can select; this mode makes Nina invulnerable, so as a player, you’ll never lose – if you keep playing, you will always eventually win. Note that this mode is non-judgemental; it isn’t called “easy” mode; playing the game this way is just as valid as with the challenge enabled.

There were other elements too. Every stage backdrop shows a reminder of the element structure (blue beats red beats green), which in-game are termed as fire, leaf and water. This isn’t just cosmetic; by making the creatures and emblems different shapes and not just different colours, it helps ensure that the game can be played by users who are colourblind.

Finally, a later revision of the game made the mode potentially more accessible for photo-sensitive users, by removing flashes and toning down the roving camera (though as always, I recommend photo-sensitive users practice caution when playing NALE, as I can’t account for all forms of photo-sensitivity).

Problems

Not everything worked out, however.

Auto-battling was originally meant to be an option; players could select “auto-battle” and Nina would battle autonomously. However, I wanted Nina to make the right decisions so she would always win, and this ended up being surprisingly difficult to script. In the end, I went with the approach of the auto-win mode making Nina invulnerable as mentioned above.

Also, as a minor thing, the lane/attack logic was originally meant to be more complex, where the creatures would make smart choices as to which opponents to attack (like they would know who was most vulnerable to their attacks). This ended up being a real headscratcher until I tested it, and found out that even in a 3×3 scenario, there are just too few targets, so more-often than not, it works fine. It’s very rare to be frustrated by this as a player, so I just parked the feature.

In summary

All-in-all, the process took a couple of months, and I was broadly happy with the end result. It certainly would fall short of a mechanic around which to base an entire game, but then, as outlined above, that was never the aim of the process. We wanted to create a platform in which “story-battles” from a show like Yugioh can happen, and I feel we satisfied that aim.

We hope that fans of those shows, if they play NALE, will get a measure of that.

If you’ve read this far, the main thing worth considering, I guess, is that the simplicity of the end result kinda belies its complexity “under-the-hood”. I hope this teardown has been useful to you, and you can consider approaching similar ideas in your own projects. The battle system is actually very flexible once you get under its skin, and I love seeing people do amazing things with it!


Thanks for reading this!

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE will be released on Steam on July 9th!

We’re inviting players to WISHLIST the game now; just click here and hit the “Add to my Wishlist” button!

We’re marking the run-up to launch with a range of daily blogposts about many different topics relating to NALE, such as how we achieved certain things in the editor, character bios and even a giveaway, which you can enter now over on Twitter!

Finally, if you’re a fan of the game, make sure you join our newsletter (and get a free pack of high-res NALE backgrounds for desktop displays & mobile devices).

We’re gonna have posts every day in the run-up to launch, so come back tomorrow for another!

And we hope to see you on July 9th over on Steam!

[5 Days to launch] Mapping – How we created the Sushi place

5 days to go until the release of NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE, and today’s daily blogpost should be of interest to beginner users of RPG Maker, who want to take their mapping a bit further. It also shows how we created The Great Wave, Fledge City’s most popular 24-hour sushi restaurant!

I’ll say, as a fore-warning – this tutorial is not going to be a super-in-depth document which covers all aspects of “parallax mapping”, as that’s beyond the scope of what I want to talk about. It’s just a few tips and tricks, and I hope it’ll be useful to some of you, even if this is old news to more experienced users.

Setting the Scene

Before we do any actual map work, as always, the first step is to get a good grasp of the functional purpose of the location.

One of the goals of Chapter III was to try and broaden the Fledge City setting, providing a few new locations while we revisit old ones, and in order to do this, we wanted to create a restaurant setting that the characters could revisit in future chapters (the intent is that, eventually, Fledge City will have many “common” locations already-made, so we don’t have to make practically everything each chapter).

The original plan was to have an izakaya, but early experiments with that weren’t great. That’s mainly because of theming; we found it hard to create a credible izakaya with the stuff we had to work with, so we thought a sushi place, especially a conveyor sushi place, with its moving conveyor, would be a better shout. Plus the moving food adds a bit of visual interest.

Right away, this presented a problem – we didn’t know if it was possible to create a belt that would allow the food to move in the right way (though we knew it would be possible, just not exactly how we’d do it); but all of that could wait – the first job, as always, was world-building.

Designing the restaurant

Conveyor belt sushi is a staple of Japanese culture, and has been for nearly half a century. Obviously, it’s one of the things people think of as stereotypical when they discuss stuff that is commonly associated with Japan; in this case the stereotype rings true, as it’s a popular type of fast food.

During my own time there, I lived near about four places, and used to attend them regularly. I occasionally go in the UK… But it’s expensive here. In Japan, conveyor sushi is cheap, as it’s regarded as lower-end (though still “good” quality, as food quality across-the-board is generally quite high in Japan) but in the UK, the novelty of conveyor sushi pushes up the price.

Anyway, this started off with getting a pack of images together of conveyor sushi places; in fact that image above was the star image of this pack.

Once we’d done this, we scoured the images to find common, obvious features that we can emulate in RPG Maker.

Key features included the wood-coloured surfaces, the lights directly above the belt, and the generally open, light nature of the place. You can hopefully see how the sushi place in-game is an interpretation of this (if I did my job correctly!).

Following on from that, we thought about how NALE’s stylistic theme, i.e. that of a harshly localised anime, would interpret a conveyor sushi place. We considered various joke approaches (like how, in Chapter 2, the convenience store is famous for selling jelly donuts, when they clearly have onigiri on the shelves) but in the end, we felt this wasn’t a good take. Instead, it made more sense to interpret it as a very generic sushi place, with a very typical Japanese theme, as would be the case for a large sushi chain in the US (or Europe).

We settled on The Great Wave, using the art of Hokusai, because of this – these two concepts are very typically Japanese, in terms of how an American business might brand itself; so it matches how a localisation place might rework the name/emblems of a Japanese restaurant in an American localisation.

Constructing the Map

It helps to build the map on paper first-of-all. Unfortunately I’ve lost this documentation, but I start with thumbnails, i.e. drawing versions of the map that are no bigger than a coaster. The tiny size makes it very easy to perform many revisions in a short time, and generally, I try to spend no more than 60 seconds on each coaster-sized design.

A small tip here – because RPG Maker games tend to be played on widescreen displays (not in portrait/tate mode), generally speaking, my maps tend to be wider rather than taller, unless I want the map to feel like the user is going on a journey/climbing/doing something else where verticality is a given.

I then built a rough layout in-editor, and finally built the actual layout.

This is purely my preference here, and I’m not saying it’s absolute – but I believe that maps, in general, should feel functional; so there’s a kitchen area neatly split from the patron areas, doors to a rear kitchen/store-room, sinks/fridges/preparation areas which are distinct from each other; then little touches like a PA system, clocks, as well as male/female toilets. Especially when working with real-life modern-day locations, I kinda feel that we’ve all internalised what we expect to see in them, and if those things aren’t there, even if we can’t explain why, the map will always feel a bit “off”.

This is how the map appears in the editor. Like most NALE locations, it was built using the RTP, plus a number of unique tiles that were made specifically for NALE. In this case, that included…

  • the conveyor belt parts
  • most of the food
  • many of the signs and table adornments

The key thing here is that for a map to reasonably lived-in, it needs “clutter”, i.e. while the map shouldn’t be “busy”, it needs enough stuff to give an impression of who lives/works there and why. This is much easier to do when you’ve established what the location as for, as you can pick things which make sense for that location. Do they have potted plants? Does the kitchen have a fire extinguisher?

Lighting Passes

Once this was complete, it was time to work on the lighting. NALE uses a two-part overlay for most of its maps, where we have a multiply layer for shadows, and an additive layer for lights. These are drawn by hand on top of the map in Photoshop.

I won’t pick out a specific plugin for this, as there are various different ones, for MV, VX Ace and I’m sure MZ. While they differ, they ultimately work in the same way – they add layers and/or replace map players in-game with images that you can create in Photoshop (or any other program). In some cases, this is just adding things like clouds or shadows (pretty much what I outline below) but full “parallax mapping” involves removing the actual RPG Maker tiled map entirely, and using images instead.

In NALE’s case, I use RPG Maker MV’s tiled map, with my own shadows and lighting. This is quite a long process, but to outline the general steps…

First we take the basic map. I use the MapShot plugin to export this as one big image by hitting the screenshot key.

Then I bring that into Photoshop, and make a stencil, by marking out the areas in blocks of colour. It’s handy as you can ctrl-click on the layers (this image is actually 2 layers, 1 per colour) and use that to get nice, hard edges on the walls.

After that, I tend to start with the shadows. I try to avoid using black, as that robs the scene of colour; generally it’s better to focus on deeper browns, sometimes blues – though blue can tend to give an “at night” edge.

Then we add the major light sources; in this case, it’s those large windows at the bottom.

This is followed by the minor light sources; so lamps, TVs, monitors, things like that.

This is making the process seem shorter than it is. Usually it takes a lot of tweaking to get something good. Often you’ll have unusually shaped objects which will cast shadows, and you need to go into the map and manually draw those in.

It’s worth it though, because the results you get can be striking; this warehouse location was created using the same approach.

Now of course, it’s still RTP; you’re not going to “fool” anyone with this approach. But it does give the areas some more definition.

Be aware, however, that we faced a small issue in NALE C3 – this method can’t be used in areas that use the pseudo-3D, “mode7-style” rendering, like the races and the world map. We had to settle for more basic lighting for those.

Making it move

Once we’d done all that, the next step was to make it move.

There were two parts to this:

  1. Making the sushi all move around the belt in an even, synchronised way
  2. Making the sushi disappear at the right end of the map and reappear at the left end

Both of these had solutions that were conceptually simple, yet maddeningly awkward to do.

For part 1, we tested with 5 pieces of sushi, placing them on the belt, and giving each of them their own Move Route, manually changing the route so they’d go the right way at the right time (i.e. each plate has a unique route that is 1 removed in the sequence from each plate before/after).

This did expose a problem, though. In RPG Maker MV, all events only update their move route within a certain distance from the player. We found early-on that if the player stood at the bottom left of the restaurant, this would cause a “pile-up” at the top-right, or vice-versa. Fortunately, a visit to the RPG Maker forums revealed that Yanfly had already created a fix for this in the Move Route Core plugin; so we could tag the sushi to always update, irrespective of their position relative to the player.

Once we’d done this, we set it going, and actually went to the movies while leaving it running, to see if it would all still be working fine when we came back – and when it was, we knew that it would be synchronised enough to not cause problems (though to be safe, the sushi has no collision – so even if one does come off the route, and hits another/the player, it’d just be visually unsightly).

After that came the awkward part. We had to do this and customise the route for every single plate on the belt. We actually did every single possible position, and deleted some after to create gaps so it looked more natural.

Note: At this point, we considered setting up every plate as a parallel event which would automatically set itself to a random, available position on the belt when the player moved into the location. Alternatively we looked at various “spawning” plugins that could do something similar. In the end, we decided to just go with the manual solution, because though it’s inelegant, it was simpler.

To make the sushi disappear, we tried a few things, like teleporting it from end-to-end. However, we found it was simpler instead just to hide the sushi. Circled on the area above are two events, we call these “belt shields”; the sushi’s move route turns it invisible under these shields. This works well, because the tiles below them have a black gradient, meaning that the effect is seamless; the player doesn’t see the sushi vanish. The invisible plates just move, in an unbroken route, to the left end of the restaurant, and become visible again before they appear on the belt.

The main thing that made all this possible was that MV’s move sync is very good; i.e. we have all these plates on move routes, and they seem to maintain sync, even over hours of running. We have got them to jump around a bit by running in very poor hardware for long periods, but generally this has been okay, and again, as the sushi has no collision, this hasn’t been too big a deal.

Rounding Up

So that’s The Great Wave sushi place! 

Altogether, from concept to completion, I think this map took about 2 weeks (I only work on NALE in the evenings/weekends), and aside from the racing map, it was probably NALE C3′s most complicated area. However, we wanted to spend the time, as we intend to use this place again.

Hope this breakdown is useful for beginners!


Thanks for reading this!

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE will be released on Steam on July 9th!

We’re inviting players to WISHLIST the game now; just click here and hit the “Add to my Wishlist” button!

We’re marking the run-up to launch with a range of daily blogposts about many different topics relating to NALE, such as how we achieved certain things in the editor, character bios and even a giveaway, which you can enter now over on Twitter!

Finally, if you’re a fan of the game, make sure you join our newsletter (and get a free pack of high-res NALE backgrounds for desktop displays & mobile devices).

We’re gonna have posts every day in the run-up to launch, so come back tomorrow for another!

And we hope to see you on July 9th over on Steam!

[6 Days to launch] An introduction to Chad Hawke

Just 6 days to go now until the release of NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE, and we have a profile of Nina’s courtroom rival, Chad Hawke!

Born in Maine, New England, Chad Hawke is one of Fledge City’s most prolific prosecutors, and the personal protégé of the city’s District Attorney and leader of the prosecutor’s office, Taryn Kestrel.

Taryn’s faith was rewarded around a year before NALE’s story began, when Chad played a key role in a series of cases that broke up a major counterfeiting ring. This was front-page news in the city, and Chad is still occasionally “recognised” in the street for this. This is helped, in part, by the obvious blue scar on his left cheek.

Chad is intelligent, complex and confident. He is highly regimented as a person, with a strong sense of self-discipline. These habits have earned him a great deal of respect, where he has seen many cases through on technicalities, and made use of obscure, but relevant statutes.

Taryn, in her turn, had something of a rivalry with Anya Miller in years gone by; an observer might suggest that Chad/Nina’s current rivalry is a continuation of this rift.

In quiet moments, Chad is a cat person, enjoys political debates on television, and loves triathlon and similar endurance sports. He’s also a keen cyclist, preferring this to driving. His pet hate is courtroom drama movies and courtroom fiction as a whole; their lack of adherence to proper procedure irritates him, to the point where he struggles to even watch them.

Chad may have an acerbic wit, but he’s a “just” person at heart. His desire to see cases lead to prosecution comes not out of some kind of misguided personal pride, but a sincere need to see justice done, and he holds a particular ire for those who oppose that; in those scenarios, he has been known to be somewhat vicious, even if that comes from a well-meaning place. Therefore, he is calculating and driven, but not taken to callous cruelty.

In a sense, Nina and Chad’s courtroom interplay is like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. His inflexible nature clashes with Nina’s more improvisational methods, and though it pains him to admit it, he respects her abilities, and Nina knows never to take him lightly.

Chad’s utterances in-game are provided by Ben Meredith; Ben is best known for his work as Elias Bouchard in The Magnus Archives. He also provides voices for Rusty Quill Gaming and Stellar Firma. You can learn more about NALE’s VA’s here: https://nina-aquila.com/#characters


Thanks for reading this!

NINA AQUILA: LEGAL EAGLE, SEASON ONE will be released on Steam on July 9th!

We’re inviting players to WISHLIST the game now; just click here and hit the “Add to my Wishlist” button!

We’re marking the run-up to launch with a range of daily blogposts about many different topics relating to NALE, such as how we achieved certain things in the editor, character bios and even a giveaway, which you can enter now over on Twitter!

Finally, if you’re a fan of the game, make sure you join our newsletter (and get a free pack of high-res NALE backgrounds for desktop displays & mobile devices).

We’re gonna have posts every day in the run-up to launch, so come back tomorrow for another!

And we hope to see you on July 9th over on Steam!