December 26, 2005 - I'm sorry to say, but December has been *way* too packed for me to work on Zelda3C. I've spent so little time on the computer that Josh's monster graphics piled up in my inbox without my even having time to evaluate them, let alone respond with feedback. I've been working overtime every week, making lots more money, and spending it on gifts, and spending even more time with family who suddenly *haven't* had to work. Things will be back to normal next month, but I've simply been unable to work on Calatia lately.
The good news is that Josh continues to create impressive graphics for this game. A few days ago I finally completed my official list of what each monster in the game will "become" graphically, which is now in Josh's hands. For example, all the soldiers that chased you around are now moblins that rome the land, reminiscent of Zelda 1. Almost every monster gets a new role, based on its actions and animations. Just like ZeldaC, there are many creative ways to invent "new" monsters. Josh regularly sends new creations, along with his own ideas, which are often the same caliber as my own. It's been very assuring to see progress made on Zelda3C even when I can't work on it myself!
My next goal, as it was the last time I posted, is to create the tiles which will hold the new pine tree graphics. The leafy trees are finished (see below if you haven't) but the pine trees exist only in the ROM's stored graphics. I have a full-page printout of the finished pine trees, as seen in Photoshop, displayed right over my desk to remind me of their importance. :) Once they're done, I can fill Harmony Forest with both trees at once.
Thank you for never giving up on me!
November 27, 2005 - Progress is sooo slow lately, but still developing as I have enough time. I've spent more time at work and more time with my family. :)
The graphics for everything I've been creating lately are completed! Every tile of every house and every tree. As far as arranging new tiles into blocks and placing them in the overworld, I only have the "leafy tree", so far. The pine tree won't take very long, as it's just one structure that gets repeated and only overlaps with other pine trees. The log cabins and stone merchant houses will take longer, as I'm custom-creating them for each instance where they appear. Still, compared to all the work I poured into Calatia Castle, this will be an easy project. None of this is spoilers, so I will reveal screenshots as I progress.
Here are the new "leafy" trees. The "burning houses" are just placeholders for the upcoming "real" houses!
Link just torched that house! No, hahah, that's just what the house looks like when its graphics are replaced by the new pine tree graphics. Don't try to study it, you'll never imagine the pine tree's appearance this way. The house graphics are overwritten because, previously, houses could appear anywhere in the game. Now pine trees will appear everywhere (green ones, not red ones) and houses will only be possible in town settings. Next time you see this screenshot, there will be an actual house here.
Here are the leafy trees grouped together in clusters. See why I refer to them as "leafy"?
More layering of trees. Note that I removed the well's hanging basket. Link was appearing in front of the basket as he jumped in the well; it looked strange and I needed the tiles elsewhere, so I took it down.
The "mini trees" of Zelda 3 have been replaced by large mushrooms. Maybe Calatia borders not just Hyrule, but Mario's Mushroom Kingdom as well..? (I had to make that joke before someone else did.)
Now, nobody write me about how strange the "burning houses" look. More to come!! In the meantime, I have the joy of stating that Zelda3C is being worked on even when I'm busy doing other things. My friend Josh has been emailing me lots of new monster graphics, and they're even better than what I would've come up with on my own. Some of them are so good that I'm afraid posting them might tempt some rival Zelda 3 hacker somewhere into stealing them. Still, I have to list some of them here for you to ponder...
Armos - Sleeps until you approach, and then attacks you; looks like a SNES version of the Zelda 1 monster.
These are the monsters which actually have new graphics, though we have a list of many other monsters and what their new forms will be. Josh has been working on other graphics as well, such as character sprites, shields, and of course, the leafy tree you've just seen. It's great to have a talented artist sending you something new almost every day! :)
November 3, 2005 - Here's a new update to let you know Zelda3C hasn't gone to sleep again. Life has been crazy, but I have a few more weeks of progress to talk about. Thanks go out to Jonathan and Cody for reminding me to write this -- their emails came within 30 minutes of each other today, LOL...
Ever since I finished working on Calatia Castle, I've been focused on common areas and town areas. Because of the way Zelda 3 stores graphics, I found myself working on trees and houses at the same time. The standard house in Zelda 3 can appear anywhere in the overworld, even if you're not in town. Because I want normal trees and pine trees to appear everywhere, pine trees have taken the standard house's place. Now houses can only appear in town settings, but it's an acceptable limitation since I've increased the number of areas which support town graphics. To get special properties for rooftops that allow you to jump down and/or use the hookshot, however, certain pieces had to be stored along with the trees. These tiles aren't used for anything else in the game, so I have the freedom to set their properties without causing side effects in other areas.
This project has taken a month of my time because I've worked on four structures simultaneously:
The first structure is what I call the "leafy" tree, which is the same size as Zelda 3 trees but has lots and lots of well-defined leaves. If the tree's trunk were removed, in fact, it would look like a very large bush. I can reuse all the tree blocks of the original game for this, but they must be modified because certain tiles are repeated in clever, hard-to-notice ways so that the graphics would be able to compress.
The second structure is the pine tree, which matches the height but only half the width of the leafy tree. Like the leafy tree, it can be layered across other trees of its own type to create "forest walls", but unlike the leafy tree, you can walk behind most of it. The pine tree emphasizes the mountainous, cold climate of Calatia, and it looks very real, with very few branches flipping across the axis. The graphics, as mentioned before, are taken from Mystic Ark, and I'm still debating whether the tree looks too messy or if the randomness only adds to the realism. I'll let you decide when I finally post screenshots.
The third structure is the log cabin. Its slanted roof faces the player, so that as Link walks north or south on it, he walks slower as if he were on stairs. There are raised portions of the roof which the hookshot can grab to pull Link to the next house. It's possible to jump down from the east, west, or south sides. The top of the roof (the arch) acts as a horizontal wall, as there's no way to represent Link walking on the side the player can't see.
The fourth and final structure is the stone house, which looks like many rocks are cemented into walls. I used 12 different tiles very carefully to make each stone have a unique shape, so it doesn't look like an obvious pattern being repeated. While the log cabin is normally used as a residence, the stone house is meant to be used by shops and public establishments. Above the door is a shop's sign, and above that is an arched rooftop which faces east and west -- a 90 degree turn from the way the cabin's rooftop faces. I went to great lengths to also allow Link to walk on store rooftops; he moves diagonal north as he ascends to the top middle of the roof. Again, there are hookshot points as well as edges to jump down from.
It would require a long, complicated explanation to address how intertwined these four structures are. They've been juggling and sharing tiles amongst themselves in different ways, as I slowly brought everything into balance so that there would be enough to represent and control everything properly. Examples include using pieces of leafy tree shadow for part of the pine tree's shadow, and borrowing tiles from one house to make the other house possible. The Vaati is in the details, after all... I had to be very careful because these tiles are needed for areas I haven't even started working on yet, including Harmony Forest and a dungeon which won't be visited until halfway through the game.
Now that all the new tiles are decided, and each tile matched to an existing tile in the game, the hard work is over. Where I left off last week was creating the actual graphics for each tile to use. They're turning out much better than certain castle graphics I've drawn, which incidentally, I've received many emails to remind me to improve them. I take graphics from other games whenever possible, because my own art isn't usually as good, and because it's faster. Harvest Moon, Final Fantasy 3 (aka 6), and some real-life photos of mountain lodges have been really helpful.
After I finish the graphics, I need to arrange the new tiles into actual blocks that will appear in the game (excluding those leafy trees). This means I'm tearing down the original houses and building new ones from the ground up, while also building pine trees. I considered myself finished with the town of Meridia, but now that I've actually challenged the house concept and designed better houses, a great deal of the town must be revamped. The mountain walls, paths, and rivers can stay as they are, but I hope my villagers will forgive me for changing their property lines... I just need to slide some houses around to allow more hookshot crossings.
So, all the hard planning and thinking is over; no more constantly erasing parts of drawings and filling out spreadsheets. It's just a matter of labor to enter these great new things into the game. I know what burning question is raised by this diary entry: Where are the tree & house screenshots? I could post the trees, at this point, but they would be shown in a copy of Zelda 3 (a test ROM), not Zelda3C. I would rather wait just a little bit longer and post new pictures of town, showing both trees and both houses, all at once. I have two more hours until I have to leave for work; time to draw more graphics!
October 9, 2005 - Trees, trees! I've spent so much time looking at trees, fighting with pixels, and trying to fit complex graphics into blocksets that don't compress well enough. At first, I was working on all new house structures, creating log cabins with arched rooftops in place of Zelda 3 houses. Their new designs allow Link to travel across rooftops using the hookshot, a long-planned goal. But because houses share graphics space with trees, I was pulled into finalizing the new trees as well.
There are TWO kinds of trees in Zelda3C. The first is a large, snow-covered pine tree, taller than a house and drawn to look very realistic. The graphics are taken from Mystic Ark, although I've never seen the trees used in this RPG. My copy isn't translated, so I couldn't figure out how to exit the building where you start the game! The other tree is a large, very leafy tree which replaces the Zelda 3 tree. This tree is submitted by Josh Noullet, who has also created other graphics for this game. Both the pine tree and the leafy tree can be used in joined groups (clusters), serving as walls as well as scenery. Pine trees can be the major tree type in some areas, while the leafy tree can dominate elsewhere. The important thing is that both trees can appear at the same time, mixed together, anywhere in Calatia.
I kept putting off this diary entry because I wanted to provide screenshots of these new trees. But even now, the trees aren't yet perfect. The colors are finally great, though I spent a long time playing with palettes. The tiles used to overlap trees across mountain edges aren't finished yet, but they won't take long to create. My problem is that both trees look TOO good. Their graphics don't compress well enough to fit into the game. I resolved the pine tree graphics by choosing certain tiles to mirror on the tree's other half, thereby leaving unused tiles blank. The leafy tree, however, still takes up too much space. Hopefully I can simplify some of its leaf patterns and still have a good looking tree...
My next goal is to finalize the usage of all the common tiles. Some of them are reserved for trees, others will remain for houses, and more may stay blank to allow graphics compression. It's a depressing waste of tiles to leave them blank, especially since I can change their types (wall, path, etc.) freely. Once this is sorted out, I will construct new houses, improve the town, and plant pine trees in place of certain current trees. For example, the farm will be surrounded in thick pine trees, yet it will include leafy stand-alone trees to dash into for oranges. When all this work is finished, I'll reveal how it all turns out.
September 20, 2005 - I haven't been very active in the 8 days since I posted the latest batch of screenshots. Just when I think I have all the ideas I need to create the game, however, more ideas continue to hit me while I'm away from home. I finally bought a small notebook which fits in my pocket, right next to my wallet, and I've already filled most of its pages with maps, puzzles and thoughts during those times when I'm stuck somewhere, waiting around. As usual, lots of time to think, but rare are the chances to act on those thoughts.
Part of the reason I haven't been very active lately is that indoor creation has been put on hold again. A while ago, a friend created a great ASM hack which handles an indoor story situation. But, the code is incomplete, as it prevents Link from ever getting back outside. He says he'll finish the code soon, but until he does, I'm hesitant to work on this part of the indoors. I will probably work on a different dungeon instead, soon, but you know how it is when you have a certain area you're focused on? Plus, I'm not sure if specific rooms will be required for this special hack, so I'm afraid to use any for other purposes, so far. I won't let this delay me for much longer, though...
The other night, again while not at home, I realized there are four different categories of Zelda3C hacking that I need help with. Some of these things aren't urgent, such as graphics editing and music transposition. Others involve changing data in locations I haven't yet found, or even writing ASM code to change specific ways the game works. Since overworld design is so dependent on whether these things are changed, I have finally created request pages elsewhere on this site. See the main page, after Screenshots, for the four links. These pages are new and somewhat incomplete, but I plan to add more requests as they come up. If you want to help with the creation of Zelda3C, please take a look!
Well, I still have some time left, so I'm going to transfer my notes out of my pocket notebook and into their specific files for the game. Time to pull out the scissors and tape and attach map segments to various dungeon files! The long quest continues...
September 12, 2005 - I've been working on Zelda3C a lot lately, much more than in California. It's become my only hobby, and absorbs all my time, other than sleeping, working, and playing Ratchet & Clank 2 with my wife. It's amazing how many little things are always having to be done, from the slightest pixel correction in a sprite's graphics to the way an area is laid out which will work the best for its sprites. I'm constantly acting as a perfectionist, requiring the best of every square tile of this game. Hopefully you'll see the attention to detail as you view 15 new screenshots which are finally prepared. I've been jumping all over the game, as usual, to make sure everything coordinates properly, and there's a lot I can't show you. Remember, this is a lot of work, but it's work that I find more fun than spending time on yet another great game title of this year. (The last time I dropped everything was when I bought Minish Cap...)
I'm tempted to also show screenshots of the latest program I've written, which lets me instantly select from available sprites, based on which one(s) I've already chosen. Not all combinations of sprites are possible, graphically speaking, so as I choose from a list, the remaining monsters or people are filtered to show what else I can have. It makes finding the possible combinations *so* much easier; I wish the previous version I wrote had worked so well! And of course, I'm changing the combinations of monsters, people, etc. as I go. The chickens and farm boy did NOT get along visually, until recently. I know I said I was done programming and ready to focus soley on game design / creation, but the more I program, the smoother and faster things go in the long run.
I'm not sure what else to write about, so this will be a short diary entry. What's next? There are several overworld areas calling me, but I'm trying to ignore them for now. I haven't made very much progress indoors yet, with only a few official rooms actually in the ROM. I know, all these years, and what do I have to show?
Well, aside from great programming and "what-if-I-try-this" studying, I have a documented quest, from start to finish, in the form of a "design document" which exists in a large notebook, several folders and at least 50 Excel files. Every detail in my first hack, ZeldaC, was decided in complex Excel VBA programming and databases, down to individual rooms and covering every level of development, including overviews of individual dungeons, minor and major item locations, text and itineraries, entrances and secrets, etc. In short, ZeldaC completely exists even without the ROM I modified, such that I could create almost the same hack by referring to all the sources in their many forms. I'm creating Zelda3C in exactly the same way. Graphics are stored in hundreds of bitmap files, monologue is stored within individual cells, overview and detail maps are drawn on graph paper, down to every bush, each area's requirements are fully detailed in their own files. Even the new palettes are stored outside the ROM, with a button on a spreadsheet which instantly pours the values into the ROM. Not counting test ROMs or backup files, the Zelda3C main folder on my computer is 130 MB in size, containing 1671 files. I don't know if what I've said gives any representation of how much work I've really accomplished, but please don't think progress is as slow as molasses in the winter. I've put in tons of extra effort on the side of caution, making sure bugs and obsolete work in the ROM are extremely unlikely. I know that this slow approach is worth it, and I'm also sure that the game will start existing in my ROM increasingly more in just a short time.
Whew, I hope I described that well enough to explain at least half of what I've been doing since I released ZeldaC in April 2001. Of course, I haven't been working on this game nonstop. Life and other interests will always take their toll. But when asked what percent of Zelda3C is completed, I never know how to answer. The ROM doesn't look like I've spent more than 6 months on it. But the world of Calatia is extremely advanced on my computer and on paper. I never thought rewriting a SNES game's adventure could be so time-consuming. When I'm finished, I'll have an awesome creation, both seamless and wonderful.
August 20, 2005 - It's been a long time since I've written a diary entry. When Challenge Games went down last December, I had no place to post my progress. I kept working on the game, but few people heard any news. Then, about a month later, my life went down as well! Reading through these diary entries, you'll find a recurring theme I'm not proud of: Every year or two, I find myself moving. Packing. Changing homes. Sometimes across the country! I wouldn't believe the way things have gone if I weren't living it myself. During the next several months, Zelda3C only made minimal progress. That's right, more interruptions. :( A lot of time was lost in moving to (and away from) a house that turned out to be leaking and moldy. Then, just over a month ago, we finished moving across the country from CA to GA, following other family members to where my wife grew up. It's a long story, full of my parents' divorce chaos which led up to this, but hopefully we'll be settled here for a good long time.
Now that life is peaceful again, I can return to posting regular diary entries. I've been working on Zelda3C off and on throughout this year, with many little things I can't hope to list. The most major accomplishment has been the completion of the outside of Calatia Castle. This structure is larger than Hyrule Castle with completely new overworld pieces. It's all here: brick walls, mini towers topped by blue cones, stained glass windows, new wooden doors, horizontal and vertical arching tunnels, wooden gates to walk under, two kinds of banners, gardens of giant yellow roses, pain-inflicting thorn bushes which protect the flowers, and three fountains which have small waterfalls flowing into enclosed shallow water. This took a LONG time to complete -- we're talking months -- but hopefully most of the other outdoor locations won't be as massive to assemble. All that's left is to draw in some paths and shadows for decoration, and then I'll post some generous screenshots. This area uses almost no blocks from the original game, not even some mountain ledges or trees to easily paste in. Considering the importance of this location to the quest, it was worth the time, but I don't ever want to spend this much time on a single area again. Only one other place, the final area of the game, will take this much work, and I won't attempt it until I'm even faster at overworld design.
After spending SO long on one place, you can imagine I was ready for something completely different. No more castle, please!! So, I began to focus on the inside of Epoch Tower. This area is already completed in the outdoors, yet its appearance will remain a secret until the game is released. The purpose of this tower is to travel through time. It exists in two time periods, and because it has such things as a map, compass, and big key, it is considered a dungeon. (Just like Hyrule Castle was a dungeon.) A while back, some ASM coding was prepared to allow this tower to use the same dungeon map twice. That is, both versions of each room could be counted on the map you view when pushing X. The ASM works very well -- when you pass through time at the top of the tower, you indeed find yourself in a room similar to the one you were in, with subtle differences such as daylight pouring into windows and treasure chests not yet opened. The map ASM works perfectly, with Link's blinking light still positioned in the same place. But, there's a problem. Link cannot return to the room from which he first entered, because he's in a different set of rooms, and no other room will allow him to exit! This problem is being worked on, but yet again, indoor problems are preventing me from actually completing an entire dungeon.
If there's one thing about this project, it's that there's always plenty to do, no matter which area I focus on. Here's an incomplete list of some of the other things I've accomplished. First, I have ALL the signposts in the game written! There are 27 signposts, all pertaining to different outdoor areas of the game. It was very fun, going through all the places in my game, deciding which needed signs and which did not. The majority of the game's text, by the way, is written now. Only the plaques, a few people, and some of the Crystal messages need to be written.
Next, I have placed the entire game's item itinerary in stone. This was previously impossible because the acquistion of certain items was a problem, especially the moon pearl and flippers. It's a dangerous thing to allow the bunny to have flippers, as you Zelda-3-glitch performers know. Bunny Link doesn't swim, he surfs, and if he dies over deep water with a bottled fairy, he gets the use of his sword. Worse, if Bunny Link dies in a dungeon, he restarts in human form! I've had to juggle and perform cartwheels to work around these problems, while still allowing Link to explore the Dark World without a moon pearl. All of that is resolved, which led to deciding the official sequence of items. This led to knowing which items are found in which dungeons. This led to knowing which items you will have available as you face specific puzzles in these dungeons. And of course, this means I can plan dungeons which were once too vague.
The game-long quest itself has become much more coherent lately. Other major decisions have been made, such as where you fight each boss, and in many cases, where you re-fight each boss. I can't place bosses just anywhere. Not only are some obviously more dangerous than others, some either require a certain item or have a weakness I don't want to be exploited. This means I can't lock the player into a room with Arrgus (aka Scrubbing Bubbles) if the hookshot is not yet found. (Unless I wanted to be mean and require an escape via the mirror...) It also means I can't let the bow & arrows be found until after the 6 Armos Knights have been defeated. So the boss placement was also dependent upon item placement, and this too is officially decided. Other items which aren't critical to the quest are also spread out properly, such as the four bottles, the tunics, the cape, sword and shield upgrades, etc. (Actually, the first bottle, the cape, the 2nd sword, and the mirror shield are all critical to advancing in the game, LOL) It took a lot of shuffling, but I'm very proud of how it's all laid out.
Let's see, what else have I done in recent times which is substantial to write about? As you may realize, rewriting a game of this size, with this many elements involved, requires an actual "design document" that states everything that will happen and where it will happen. As I mentioned on the main page recently, there are many post-it notes, napkins, paper plates, and purchase receipts involved in this process. These pieces of paper are handy at times when I'm not at home, with no computer access, with awesome ideas unfolding in my mind. If the inspiration doesn't flow onto paper or screen, it's often lost, since I'll forget all the details I've worked out mentally. I have folders called Outdoors Specific, Outdoors Unplaced, Indoors Specific, and Indoors Unplaced. To keep these scraps of paper safe, I've been filing them in folders or typing them later. These ideas and concepts build up, but they must be organized to be used properly. I already have a system which details specific areas, but the database had a lot of data entry work I'd never gotten around to completing. Now, at least for the overworld, the information is all sorted into each area of the game, including areas which are already finished. Drawings can't be typed up, but I have a notebook which labels each drawing as a diagram number, and each diagram number is referenced where I otherwise would be typing. The Indoors Unplaced folder still has a lot of work inside -- there are countless puzzles that need homes. :) I don't know how much of this paragraph was interesting to read, but it's still major Zelda3C progress. Organization of plans and ideas is essential to getting everything into the game properly.
I've been typing this diary entry for an hour and a half. Whew. Did you actually read all of the above? Well, my goal is to have shorter, more frequent diary entries, but I thought I'd try to make up for lost time. I'll conclude with the last Zelda3C project I've been working on: Lellow Farm. Yes, my game has to have a farm in it. Would you live in Meridia if there were no farm? Okay, I'm talking nonsense, but it's very late and I should be asleep. The farm in Zelda3C is already completed, for the most part, but a few things have been missing. Last night I started block construction for the large well and the stacks of hay, complete with pain-inflicting pitchfork. Block construction means drawing a blueprint which identifies every 8x8 block required (which can have a wall, path, or other property). It also means arranging those blocks into 16x16 blocks (bush size) and 32x32 blocks (tombstone size) to place in the game itself. And let's not forget important details such as choosing colors for the palette and creating the graphics for each 8x8 block. Anyway, in this project, I have finished the blueprint and chosen the colors. Tomorrow I will draw the graphics and erect the well and haystacks. Compared to all the work that castle required, this feels like a simple break. This is a "real" well, by the way. Remember those flat wells in town that Link fell into by jumping south from a ledge? This is a full-sized well, as substantial as a house and easily tall enough to walk behind. And you don't have to ask whether Link can jump into the well. But you might ask, "Where does it lead, and how does he get back out..?"
Okay, coming up next diary entry: I plan to finish the farm and place the trails, shadows and bushes within the castle walls. I also plan to show screenshots of both areas. And maybe, just maybe, I'll have Epoch Tower's exit situation resolved...
P.S: By the way, I found and fixed a bug earlier tonight. Link was jumping into trees, literally! One of the 8x8 blocks used in trees was somehow accidentally turned into a "jump south" block, which meant he would jump over roots as he passed a tree, or worse, he would jump inside of trees and be trapped forever! I was very relieved to see this problem fixed -- I do NOT want to start over with entering data into this ROM! :)
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