4 Hugues Ross - Blog: 10/01/2018 - 11/01/2018
Hugues Ross


Halberd Studio: No Sleeping, Just Scheming

I didn't sleep last night. The cause had nothing to do with my projects, but I ended up thinking about Halberd for a few hours. The more I thought, the more I became certain: Something has to change.

If you read my roundup for September, you'll know that I actually made some decent progress. Despite that, I still have a lot of doubts. After last night, I re-read all of my recent posts and decided that a new strategy was in order.

There's a wall of text about my motivations between you and this strategy. Click here if you'd prefer to skip it.

...But Why?

Obviously, this is coming off as indecisive. Still, I came to an interesting reason to change things up. I wrote about a similar feeling in August. At the time, I wasn't happy with the game. I looked back at my first post on it, decided that my reasoning was still correct, and kept going.

As a refresher, here are the reasons I had for starting:
  1. Making a game is a way to validate that the tool works, by forcing me to engage with all of its features. If there are any bugs or missing parts, I can fix them before release. It also lets me see which features need the most love and which are 'good enough' as-is.
  2. Having games made in an engine is also good for proving its capabilities. Anyone can make game development tools, but if no good games have ever been made with them then they'll be a tough sell for other devs.
  3. Finally, games can also serve as a useful reference for anyone who wants to try Halberd out. I don't think anyone will at this point in development, but when people do start using it they'll have something to help them.
  4. Additionally, the large scope of Halberd makes it a real marathon of a project. I need to break it up with smaller game projects if I want to keep my sanity! Not all of my 'filler' will be made with Halberd, but it's still a convenient excuse to give the engine a workout.
I still think these points are sound. However, my current project isn't actually the best way to address them. Let's go down the list again:
  1. The first reason is spot-on. Making a game is a pretty solid validation process. Making a demo of the engine's features could also work for this.
  2. This point disqualifies a demo as a complete solution, but there's an important word in there: Good. A bad game won't convince anyone to use an engine, it may even turn them away.
  3. See point 1.
  4. Here's the other problem: I replaced one drawn-out process with a drawn-out process and a diversion that I didn't personally enjoy. Demos won't fix that, but I have some other plans.
'Henry' is not a good game. It won't be a good game, and I'd even go as far as to say that it can't be one. As I work on this project, I can feel the time I'm wasting. That has an impact on my productivity, and it's exacerbated by the fact that I was never really that interested in it. I knew that my options would be limited, so I tried to go as simple as possible. I also used the game to try a new post format. That's pretty much all I have to say about it, because there was nothing else to hold my attention.

Despite my lack of interest, I still want to make RPGs in general. I have a few 'real' ideas on the backburner, but Halberd just isn't ready for them. The engine is technically in an 'MVP' state because you can make a game with it, but it's not viable for anything serious yet.

The Plan

That last section went long, but it felt good to get it out. Next, let's talk solutions. Back in August again, I listed some wants. After re-reading them, I can confidently say that they mostly hinge on being more patient and giving Halberd the time it needs. Working solely on Halberd brings up the issue of fatigue, but nothing is stopping me from keeping my current 'alternating weeks' strategy. Let's run with that concept.

Halberd is a huge project, and there are a lot of very different tasks needed for its success. I've split them into roughly four different categories:
  • Foundations
  • Progress
  • Polish
  • Content


Halberd rests on top of DFGame, and I've regularly had to dive in to fix issues and add features for the engine's sake. One thing that bothers me is that I never have enough time to polish all of this internal code. With the pressure of getting a feature to work so that I can finish whatever I started on Halberd, it's hard to spend extra time on code clarity, tests, refactoring, and so on.

Long-term, these things are necessary for a healthy engine.


The 'critical path' to making my dream games, if you will. This category represents the features needed to make a powerful and flexible engine, things like custom equations, items, cutscene and dialogue tools, etc.


Just getting Halberd to work well is enough for me, but to really sell (figuratively) the engine to the public I need to make sure that it also feels good to use. That means taking time to fix minor gripes, improve workflows, write help docs, and work on unifying the engine's look and 'brand'.


I've never brought it up, but I think a big factor in novice-oriented engines is the quality and variety of the assets they pack in. I'm convinced that this is partly why so many people are attracted to RPGMaker, and also why some people look down on games made with it. Assets matter in the market that I'm planning to enter, and they're also a good source of practice.

If I spend enough time building my art and audio skills before I start my RPGs, I can make them truly live up to my expectations.


With some diverse long-term tasks prepared, the remaining question is how to divvy them up. Conveniently, I found out last month that I can get a couple solid features done per week. For now, I'm going to try focusing on each of these categories for one week every month. I'll keep this up until the end of the year, then I'll re-evaluate if I'm still not happy.

Looking further ahead, I'm about 5 1/2 months away from the first anniversary of Halberd's announcement. I don't think it'll be ready for release at that point, but I'd like to at least have some convincing demo videos by then! I'll also make the code public some time in the next few months, so that I can point people there for more detailed progress.


Halberd: September Roundup

It's been a pretty long month. A lot of general life issues cropped up, and I honestly feel like I didn't accomplish enough overall. I also didn't find the time to write any blog posts either, so I thought I'd try and go over the current state of things now.

Where we last left off, I was trying to find a balance between engine and game progress. For the time being, I've settled on alternating weeks. A single week comes out to be enough time to get one or two notable things done, so that seems to get me slow but steady progress on both projects.

Given that the aforementioned life issues probably cost me a week or two, it's hard to tell if the resulting development speed is actually acceptable. I'll probably have a better idea after next month.

State of the Game: Audible frustration

With all that said, I've actually made very little progress on the game. The main culprit is, as with Cloudy Climb, my complete lack of musical skill. I'm slowly improving but making music is still a difficult process for me. I think this problem will eventually go away, but in the meantime it's still a major roadblock.

I've made some progress on the art front, with a finished player sprite and the beginnings of the second area's tileset. Once the music problem is resolved, I should be able to keep going at a steady pace.

State of the Editor: Polish!

One of the things that concerns me about working on Halberd while making a game with it is how to resolve the potential for feature creep. Let's imagine for a moment that I decided to focus on adding NPCs to Halberd. If I succeeded, there would be a pretty strong temptation to add NPCs to the game as well. They would certainly make the game better, but they would also increase the scope of the final product. With enough features, I might find myself overextending the game way too far. Thankfully, I have a long todo list and many items on it have no effect on project scope. This month, most of my focus has been on UX and 'branding'.


Improving the general workflow and looks of an engine is pretty much always useful, especially since Halberd is still so unpolished. So, I spent a couple weeks on making it look and feel better to use. I've been posting occasional screenshots to my Twitter account, here are a few for those who don't want to bother looking for them:
New landing page with a list of recent projects

Asset icons, and a new quick asset selection button

Settings split into sections, and a new vector editing widget with custom icons

There's more than this, but that covers most of the juicy bits. When the time to release this thing comes, I'll probably make another video in the 'walkthrough' style like I did last time.


I've never liked branding, advertising, community building, and other 'tangential' aspects of development. This is probably because I'm not a social type, I prefer to sit in a dark room and create. However, reality dictates that if I ever want Halberd to be successful, I need to 'sell' it to its target audience.

Halberd will always be free (in every sense of the word), but in this day in age that's just not enough. I need to convince others that my work is worth using, and one part of that is building a consistent presentation and messaging. To that end, I decided to start thinking about this problem early.

"What should Halberd offer?"

This is an important question, one that I believe is core to making the engine more than just a technical success. A common question that I see whenever a new engine is announced is:

"Why use this instead of insert established competitor(s) here?"

I know that this question will come for me too, and I want to have a real answer ready ahead of time. I already discussed some of my motivations in my original announcement post, but I now have a pretty specific idea of where I want to take Halberd in the future.

Right now, I think there's still a divide between engines that are immediately accessible to newcomers and engines with modern and efficient development pipelines suitable for serious commercial work. Engines like Unreal and Unity have tried to style themselves as welcoming, but the fact of the matter remains that developers must learn to program to make much with them (yes, UE4 blueprints are programming). On the other side of the spectrum, some engines like GameMaker: Studio have tried to modernize and improve. This development is more interesting to me, but curiously a lot of more targeted engines (such as RPG Maker, SRPG Studio, Wolf RPG Editor, etc.) don't seem to have kept up as well.

Not that this has stopped developers, of course. I believe that good games can be made with any engine, but games are best made with a good engine. My hope is that Halberd can someday offer itself to RPG devs as an engine that's dead-simple to start, but offers enough power and depth to be ideal for professional-grade work. It can't live up to that dream yet, but I think having a strong vision from the outset will help ease people's fears.

Thinking about names

I like Halberd. It makes for a simple and memorable name. On the other hand, it's a noun that doesn't really describe anything. That's not uncommon in game engines, but I decided to try and find some other possible names.

To that end, I threw together a bunch of words that I could fit together to try and find something better. I mostly stuck to descriptive words like 'builder', 'editor', 'engine', 'game', 'rpg', etc. Most of the results didn't really impress me, but I do like the ring of Halberd Studio. It's not really any more descriptive or SEO-friendly, but it has a more official tone to me.

Given my end goal, it might be worth sticking to. My only concern is that there are already several 'studio' game engines hanging around, and throwing another one on the pile might not be a good move. I've keeping that name for now, but it's still not a final decision.

Next up

Looking back on this post now, I suppose September was actually rather productive! I'll probably try to focus a little more on the example game next month, since that hasn't seen as much progress lately. I still don't know how long it'll take to finish, but I'm hoping for some sort of official release before the end of the year. We'll see how that works out over the course of the next month or two!