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Category: Gameplay

Overworld Movement or Something

Hey guys! It’s CJ again, here to tell you some more stuff about The Phantom Keeper.

A lot of what I’ve been focused on and talking about in these posts is the battle mechanics – but I haven’t talked much about the overworld movement yet, so I figured for this post I’d give an update on how that’s going!

A lot of the overworld gameplay is going to be heavily inspired by Paper Mario TTYD, and people who’ve played it will probably feel the similarities. Here’s a few things that you can do and expect in the overworld of The Phantom Keeper:

Classic 3D platformer movement!

For navigating the overworld, the basics are the same as many other 3D platforms – you can move around in all 4 directions, you can jump, and you can attack stuff with your scythe. When the game starts, that’ll be all of your movement options – and things will be focused more on exploring around and solving puzzles! We plan on having some more movement controls that you unlock throughout the game, but I’ll talk about those some other time.

The player’s movement is going to be a bit more physics-based, which means that you’ll be able to do some cool things like jump off of moving platforms and keep the momentum! Also, something cool we have right now is that attacking cancels your momentum – so you can stall yourself in the air as a way to save yourself if you mistime a jump!

Staged Perspective

For the majority of the game, the camera will be from a staged perspective (That’s probably not the actual technical term for it, but that’s what I call it). Staged perspective is when the camera follows the player, but stays at one angle – in our case, meaning that most of the movement will be left to right, but with a bit of added depth. You might be thinking ‘why?‘ or ‘Wouldn’t just a normal 2D or 3D camera be better?’ or maybe ‘What’s a camera‘, so here’s a few reasons why I like Forced perspective:

  • You don’t have to control the camera at all! Makes it much more relaxing, and easier for less experienced gamers.
  • It’s usually easier to figure out where to go next – when in doubt, going right usually works!
  • Still preserves a bit of that exploration feel that 3D games give
  • This is more for us, but it’s much easier and quicker to make levels that you only look at from one angle!

There may be a few places where we break this idea of a single camera angle, like in towns or particularly big areas – but we’ll still have the camera automatically controlled in those cases, so no need for camera controls!

I don’t know how to end blog posts! Bye! 👋


Hello again! It’s CJ. This week I wanted to talk a bit more about ANOTHER part of our battle system, Relics! I know my last few posts have been about battle stuff, but honestly that’s the majority of what I’ve been working on recently (and probably will be for a good bit longer). Hopefully this just means that our battle system is gonna have lots of fun parts at play to keep it interesting!

So, what are Relics? Well, in a story sense, we’re not exactly sure yet – the idea is that they were items left behind by the living that somehow made it into Akeron. All we know is that they can be pretty useful, and pretty powerful!

But in a gameplay sense, they’re one of the major ways that players will be able to customize both their Keeper and their Phantoms! Each Relic has a different effect, and that effect can be applied by equipping it to either yourself or your Phantoms. If you’re familiar with the held items in Pokémon or badges in Paper Mario, it’s a similar idea – each Relic gives a unique benefit.

So how do they work?

Each Relic will have both an effect when equipped, and an equip cost. These equip costs will range from very expensive for powerful Relics, to cheap or free for ones with minor effects. Both the Player and their Phantoms also have a set amount of ‘Relic Points’ which can increase as they level up. The amount of Relic Points that the Player or Phantoms have is the limit of Relic equip points they can take. Basically, if the Player has 5 Relic Points, they can either equip 1 Relic with an equip cost of 5, or 2 Relics with an equip cost of 2 and 3, or even 5 Relics each with an equip cost of 1!

Also, equipping Relics doesn’t use them up – you are free to unequip them at any time, and rearrange them as needed! (Except during battles.) Sorry if the explanation was a bit complicated, but for anyone familiar with the Badge system in Paper Mario, it’s almost exactly like that, with the addition equipping them to your phantoms.

In terms of what the Relics actually do when equipped, there’s going to be lots of options! We still need to play around with the different effects, but to list a few different types of relics we have planned:

  • Stat buffs! (Increase things like max HP, attack, defense, etc.)
  • New moves! (Unlock new abilities that can be used in battles)
  • Status Effects, both good for you and bad for your enemies! (Things like a slow HP heal every turn, or starting with your opponents being de-buffed!)
  • And more! A good bunch of Relics we have planned don’t fit in a particular category, as they do very unique things – like improve your chance to catch a phantom, or increase the rewards from fighting.
A look back at the first Paper Mario’s Badge menu. Look at all those pixels!

So yeah! By adding Relics into the mix, this opens up a lot of possibilities for customization and optimization when playing the game, with the freedom to change up your playstyle whenever a new idea hits you. We’re going to be spending a lot of time making different Relics and balancing them around, just to make sure that each Relic has a use. Next time I blog I promise I’ll try to come up with something different to talk about than more battle stuff (but no promises).

Me working hard on battle stuff

Action Commands!

Hey, It’s CJ again! I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on the action commands for the combat, and so while I briefly talked about the action commands in my last blog post, I wanted to go a bit more in depth into what we’re planning for them, and give a couple examples!

2 quick warnings before you read ahead:

  1. The art in the screenshots are not final, ESPECIALLY the UI. It’ll look prettier in the end, promise!
  2. The action commands haven’t been tested extensively yet, so they may change or be entirely swapped out – this is just to give an idea of our current direction!

How will they work?

For the action commands, we want to make them quick enough so that they don’t disrupt the flow of the fight, but still be fun and unique – without getting too repetitive! These are some hard things to juggle, and so we’ll probably have to go through a lot of iterations to balance everything just right. Another big challenge is that we want to have a bunch of different phantoms that the player can catch, and we want each one to have unique moves and action commands – and with each phantom having multiple abilities, the amount of action commands really starts to add up!

So, how are we going to have unique action commands for each phantom? In short, the way we plan on setting them up is to have one type of action command for each emotion type, and then have variance in the command for each individual phantom and ability. This means that two phantoms of the same type will have similar style of action commands, but will still have a unique differences for each move – so that every move will be it’s own unique action command. To do this, when making action commands, we set it up so that each ability can have different settings for the action command. It’s a bit hard to explain without examples, so here are some of the different types of action commands we plan to have!


The Joy Action command – a straightforward ‘press the button when the thing lights up’

For the Joy action command, the minigame is a simple ‘press buttons with timing’ kinda deal. The meter will fill up, and once it lines up with the target, you gotta put in the input! This is very reminiscent of the basic hammer attack in Paper Mario, just with a slightly different approach. The basic idea of this minigame is pretty straightforward – in fact, the only input is just pushing a single button! However, there are quite a few things that can change in between different versions of joy abilities. To list a few:

  • Have different button inputs, or make the required button random each time!
  • More than one button – needing to press the same button at different times, or different buttons!
  • Different speeds – some filling faster, some slower

And so, by changing these variables, we can make a ton of different versions of the same action command! One Joy phantom might have some quicker action commands but with random buttons, while another might be slower, but with multiple buttons required for each!


What are you talking about, I didn’t steal anything from undertale

For the fear minigame, we wanted something a bit more different from action commands in other games. We also wanted one that reflected the emotion of fear – and thought that a bullet-dodging style of minigame would be perfect! For this action command, the name of the game is survival – avoiding the projectiles that fly at you, and successfully using your ability if you survive. Because we want the action commands to be quick, we plan on making the timer for ones like this short – and so we’ll instead add some difficulty by having different ways of launching projectiles at you! A few variables that the fear action commands will have include:

  • Modifying the speed/movement of the player (Maybe restricting the movement to only one axis?)
  • Changing how many projectiles/how fast they are/where they come from/how big they are/
  • Giving the player room for a few extra hits, if needed 🙂

So yeah! Hopefully you have a better idea now of how action commands will work in The Phantom Keeper. We’re excited to keep experimenting with new variables and new styles of action commands, so stay tuned for probably more blog posts about action commands in the future!

Battle Time!

Hello again! It’s CJ. This week, I wanted to take a bit of a dive into the gameplay of The Phantom Keeper – a bit of a continuation on the post that talked about the inspiration games. While I won’t go into detail about every aspect, I do want to talk about a few of the fun features we plan to have in our current battle system.

Type Matchups

The first thing I wanted to share about our battle system is something that a lot of RPG players are familiar with – type matchups! Adding in type matchups is an easy way to add a bit of complexity into battles, without being too confusing. While we wanted to keep the basic formula of type matchups the same (rock does more damage to scissors, scissors deal less to rock) one thing that we are experimenting with is what the types are. While usually types are based on elements or damage sources, we chose to use something more thematic to the setting of our game – emotions!

The full list of types in our game, as they currently stand, are the following:

Note – this list may change! We may add/remove/rename some of these in the future.

The idea behind this is that because phantoms are a culmination of a person’s feelings, their form is based on their most prevalent emotion in life. Because of this, some phantoms are stronger against other types – a calm phantom will be better to deal with an anger one, but anger is strong against love – or other anger types! We plan to play around with these matchups, trying to keep an even mix of both making the matchups make sense logically, but also making sure no one type is too much better than another – at least not without drawbacks!

Action Commands

The other fun mechanic we are bringing into our battles is action commands! Action commands are basically a quick-time event, or mini-minigame that occurs after you select an attack or ability. The result of your attack is then modified based on how you did – if you messed up the action command, your ability won’t be as effective, or it might not work at all. However, doing it perfectly might reward you with a bit of extra damage, or another free turn on a buff-type of ability!

The reason that we wanted to add action commands was that we felt it made combat more interesting. It adds a bit of risk with every move – you might calculate out that a certain move will do exactly enough damage, but only if you do the action command correctly. It also helps to break up the monotony that turn-based combat can have, making the battles feel more interactive than just picking a move. In general, action commands make you feel more like you’re the one fighting instead of just giving orders, while still not being as stressful or intimidating as real-time combat can be!

For our game, action commands are going to take many forms. Because we plan on having lots of different phantoms, each with their own set of abilities, we wanted to make it so that the action commands could always feel a bit unique to each phantom. To do this, we plan on having a few categories of action commands, assigning them out based on the phantom type! For example, anger attacks will be all about mashing buttons as fast as possible, while calm attacks will focus more on balancing things! We’re excited to try and add as many different kinds of these action commands as we can, both to keep combat interesting and to help make each phantom feel unique!

I don’t have another picture to add so here’s a pic of my family’s dog, Moose, who is a good boy

And that’s it for this post! I’m sure I’ll share more about the game’s mechanics in future blog posts, but I wanted to give some insight on where we are taking things so far. I also felt like this was a good continuation to the post about our inspiration games, showing how we are taking ideas from both, then combining them and adding our own twist!

Inspiration for The Phantom Keeper

Hey! I’m CJ. I’m the main programmer and game designer here at Pine Drake! I’ll probably focus more about the design stuff in my posts, talkin about why we make the decisions we do for our games. Also, any grammatical errors that have ever been in our games have been my fault, so – you’ve been warned.

If you ask anyone I know, they’ll tell you my favorite game is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. It was one of my first games as a kid, and it’s a game I come back to and replay at least once a year, if not more. As for Claire, her favorite game series is Pokémon. So when we formed Pine Drake, we knew that at some point we wanted to make a game that combined those two ideas together. After a lot of back and forth, workshopping some ideas, we finally arrived at The Phantom Keeper. One of the big focuses when designing this game was how to merge the two ideas together, trying to keep the best of both of them, and then giving them our own twist.

A sneak peek at our battle system (with bad programmer UI)

From Paper Mario, our favorite aspects were definitely the combat and the dialogue. The combat is a pretty straightforward turn-based setup with a few twists that made it really compelling. The big things that we wanted to maintain was the idea of using smaller numbers, and the action commands.

By using smaller numbers for things like damage, health, etc., there’s a level of clarity that allows you to strategize even more. You can know that an attack will do exactly 4 damage, and that the opponent has exactly 6 health, and plan around that. In contrast, a lot of other RPG’s have what I call “Magic Numbers” – various stats for attack and defense that aren’t super clear how they calculate damage, how they stack up against your opponents, what’s a lot and what’s a little. That clarity from smaller numbers is one of my favorite parts of the combat. It means that you can plan out your moves much more easily without needing to pull out a calculator.

As for the action commands, they are a great way to make the combat more engaging. I find that in a lot of RPG’s, at least in the battles against common enemies, you can just button mash for the regular attack until the battle is done. Action commands give you something to do with every battle, and added chance for success or failure that you can control. It also feels a bit more immersive, like you’re the one attacking that enemy, instead of just giving the order.

From Pokémon, the main bits that we wanted to keep was the monster collection – and all the aspects associated with it. By naming and training the creatures you capture, it forms an extra bond that a lot of people clearly enjoy. Sure, being able to pick who fights for you is fun, but it’s also important that you can pick their moves, give them items to buff them, and name them after various types of cheese.

We also love the idea of type matchups. At it’s base, it’s just a game of rock paper scissors, but it adds this reward for knowledge, both for which types are good against which other types, and what type is associated with a creature. It also encourages having more than just one partner for the entire game and to catch and train new friends (or feel extra pride at beating scissors with only paper!).

So, with all those things listed, we got to work on how to combine these ideas, and what we could add to it. That’s a lot of the work we are doing right now; finding a way to join these ideas together, and presenting them in a way that feels both nostalgic and brand new. One of the big things that we are trying to make entirely different from these games is the setting – but how we settled on the setting is probably worth another blog post on its own! (Maybe my next post, who knows)

A Pro’s and Con’s List for what we like from these games.

So yeah! That’s a very long-winded explanation of the two main sources of inspiration for our game, why we liked them, and what parts of them we want to preserve. We’re very excited to make our own version of our favorite games, and we hope that others are too 🙂