Minirant: Is it bad to try too hard to make a hack look too visually distinct?

So, bit of a rant, but I personally have been worried with how hard I’ve tried to make my hack look as visually unique and I think many aspects have suffered as a result, namely in regards to mugshot consistency and especially my story, which I’ve still been scratching my head about how to make it better.

I feel there’s a magical feeling when you look at assorted screenshots of various romhacks. Then, when I look at my own, something’s not right… It’s like… It’s kinda like I’m trying too hard, y’know?

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Like, I think about all the things I threw in, like short font on everything, Sacred War battle screen with a darker palette, and FE12 backgrounds, and while normally I’d see those as looking really cool in another hack, something’s not right when I look at it. Is it just me?

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Honestly it was mostly just making the main colour for player units green that bothered me (since it’s not very readable in your context). Otherwise I like the aesthetic of the hack, it feels fresh. But don’t feel pressured to change graphics for the sake of it, sometimes what vanilla has or what other hacks have looks pretty swell.

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I think your screenshot looks more like you put additional effort into your hack rather than trying too hard. Most FE8 hacks I see tend to keep the vanilla look, which gets a little repetitive to me. What you could try is to make the rest of your graphics keep with the new style you’re going for. This screenshot seems to have quite dark, low contrast colors on the battle screen in addition to smoothness. FE8 portraits have pretty high contrast shading which does make them feel out of place. Perhaps you can try to translate that same feel to your portraits and map sprite colors? Just a thought. Darkening backgrounds could help as well. The issue to me is not that your game feels too different, more that a lot of other hacks tend to ignore visuals. Visuals are heavily overlooked by many hackers, the fact that you’re changing up visuals is something I respect and appreciate.
Right now, my advice for you is to focus on important details first (story and gameplay) then see what you can do to make your visual style more consistent. What you have works for the time being.

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Actually, I’ve done the same for areas like the status screen and the maps and map sprites (thanks Tristan)
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With that said I immensely appreciate your advice! I’ll do my best in the future with story and gameplay balancing.

I think you’re right. I’ve been considering changing it.

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I’ve yet to play your hack Serif(although I hope to at some point!), so some of this may not apply in this circumstance. But my personal philosophy is “visual polish is cool and good, as long as it doesn’t confuse or distract.”

An example of a confusing change from my own hack would by my affinity icons, which I’ve had complaints about being confusing as it’s hard to identify which is which. I’ve noted this, and am working to make changes that are easier to understand. Another would be if a stat screen is too “busy” making the actual stats unreadable.

I don’t see too much of that from your screenshots I’ve seen. In fact, I’m quite liking the style! (Although I am notably terrible with colors) Like Zaim said, I think changing the player palette can be confusing and off-putting to some; you’ll have to consider for yourself if the change is worth a bit of confusion. As long as it is readable and fairly consistent, I think you’re in the clear. And if someone finds something confusing, hopefully they’ll report that, and you can make a change if necessary.

Ultimately, the hack is yours though, and you have the final stylistic say. Visual polish is a cool way to make a hack feel “not-vanilla”, and it can also be very fun to implement. I think it’s a cool thing to pursue.

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I think going too far for visual distinction is a bad thing that will affect usability in the long run, but from what you have shown, you’re not “trying too hard”, you’re doing okay.

What do I mean with okay? I orignially thought that changing battle screen to green would mislead people into confusing ally with player units, but in the rest of the screenshots, you showed how all of the player units are actually changed to green, and neutrals to black, which means there IS consistency. It also shows a lot of effort.

What would be going too far? Stuff like changing basic things about the sprites and not keeping everything consistent. Let’s take a look at the iron lance. It has a simple design and it looks slim. You can look at it at a glance, and distinguish it from a steel lance. Steel lances look heavier and have a different pole. Silver weapons look like, well, silver. Tomes have color codes, etc. These small rules help identifying every sort of item, but they need to be consistent. Recently, I was playing Justice and Pride (Good hack btw), and when I got the Amarok tome, I was like “Wtf is this?”. It’s an anima tome, but it’s blue with black, so it can be easily mistaken for a dark tome. Besides, it’s also the only tome that uses this palette, unlike hacks that use blue for thunder family. In fact it left me several minutes wondering until I checked the inventory. This is the sort of thing that should be avoided, as icons should easily convey the sort of weapon we’re talking about, but obviously the same applies to stuff like animations, portrait designs (A myrmidon should look like a myrmidon, unless you deliberately make him look different), and such.

Anyway, that’s just what I think. In the end, you should do something you’re comfortable with!

TLDR: So long as everything is still recognizable for the player, go nuts!

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I’m a HUGE aesthetics guy and everyone who worked with me will know I’m extremely picky with how i want my hack to sound and feel.

On the topic of Mugshot consistency - this is just a difficult thing to manage simply because of the availability of artists in the community - folks come and go, not to mention, these folks usually are volunteers. Its not often you find dedicated artists for a project, sometimes I even had to go off site. sometimes they’ll only supply art via commission. Mug inconsistency is a thing that i find acceptable since there’s a lot of barriers that stop a hacker from getting the aesthetic they imagine in their head.

Moreover, many, many projects will only find these dedicated artists long after they’ve established themselves. And I’m not talking about a 1-5 chapter hack, i mean a project that doesn’t show signs of death. I remember there was a guy years ago who just airdropped his full hack and the mugs were just his splices, then the community rallied to improve all of his mugs. In other words, actualizing your artistic vision takes a long time to accomplish.


Well, it looks better than Vanilla. But I think you might just be getting in your own head too much. Like you mentioned, you’re looking for a unique vision right now. But this looks fine to me. Granted, a battle screen can do a lot for the flavor and tone of a hack since its going to be one of the most present things the player will see.
Death or Glory had freaking skulls and bones and whatnot for their window and it greatly contributed to its theme. Perhaps you need to ask yourself.
“What is the theme of my project and what do I think looks cool at the same time?”


I’ll finish off by offering critique - the background for the statscreen is incredibly distracting. Its difficult to distinguish between the numbers and the insignias on the banner because the colors are very alike.

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This is the sort of thing where, in my opinion, you’ve got to go all or nothing. I like to harp on gratuitous replacement of item icons (sometimes the battle screen as well) that hacks do too often for no other reason than “I’m making a hack; it’s got to be different”. But if you don’t have a theme you’re willing to commit to or otherwise some sort of ethos behind the design decision (I dunno, maybe you added red/green/blue backgrounds to the weapons because the weapon triangle is super important to the game’s design), I’m going to assume it’s arbitrary.

Behold a screenshot of a dead project:
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I’m very proud of this stat screen, even though it’s mostly just me riding on the coattails of the main menu background from FE13. Other than Garcia (I didn’t get around to inserting portraits, which had darker colours), what’s the thing that sticks out? The affinity icon, the only unchanged element (well, ignoring the arrows, bar underneath the “Personal Data” text, and “1/3” thing, which are of no consequence, and the fullwidth font for LV/E/HP). Now, I love customising fonts. I will spend unreasonable amounts of time staring at each letter to make sure they’re esthetically pleasing when they line up (this one’s actually old enough that with my current standards, it should go back to the drawing board). But since I changed the font to have only a shadow instead of a border around each letter, it doesn’t look as good with the vanilla FE8 stuff. Like you, I was going for a more dark and moody esthetic. But as soon as you leave the stat screen…
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Bam! Illusion broken. It goes without saying that I was going to change the map palette, map sprite palette, menu graphics, etc to match. I just didn’t get around to it. One more screenshot from another dead project:
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In this project, I was trying out a new style for mini portraits. Instead of universally being 64×64 cutout ->32×32 mini sprite, they were resizes+stylizations of just the head area. I still like how they look, but since I didn’t change the mini portrait box (it was going to be something darker and more minimalistic) they look very out of place.

So, yeah. Either embrace the ESTHETIC or go for “less is more”. I love customising every element of my game too much, but the less-is-more route has its merits: you have to do less work and it’s easier to call the player’s attention to new stuff. Say you gave affinity an important role in gameplay (weapon triangle’s for nerds! fire/ice/wind/lightning/water affinity pentagon time!); using new icons in an otherwise vanilla stat screen would make them jump out at the player and remind them that they’re important. I’ve actually seen games that move the affinity icon next to the character’s name; this would work, too. If you have some gimmicky new weapons the player has to watch out for, giving them custom icons will make them pop out as well.

And, well, if the text is what you need to stick out…
dead3

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It looks fine, nat, I think you’re worrying a bit too much. The only thing I’m personally not a huge fan of is smallfont on everything but that’s probably a me thing. (also if you need mugs feel free to hmu)

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Don’t play it right now though, it’s two chapters outdated and lacks all of the visual polish I threw on

I’ve yet to play Seven Siblings but from what I’ve seen I don’t mind the affinity icons; supports are already an optional mechanic as is and the bonuses are, well, bonuses. I guess maybe the Thunder icon is a little too dark but it’s fine to me.

Actually unrelated question but what font is this from? I feel like I recognize it from somewhere else…

Honestly I think I might give this a try, I remember hearing seeing minimugs like this being mentioned by… I think it was NickT? I don’t remember exactly

thanks vro :flushed:

With that said, thank you all everyone for your advice and critique! I thought that doing a ton of cosmetic stuff was a hacking sin since I usually save that for last.

It looks like parts of the palette are missing. That might be it.

What parts are missing?

Ok so I actually did give it a bit of a whack, kinda rough since I suck with eyes and spriting in general, especially with the one on the right
image - 2020-05-17T064801.879image

I know the narrow width font is becoming more popular because you can fit more text, but… I actually find it really difficult to read. Other than that, I think your battle frame looks great, although as others have pointed out the palette isn’t really optimised

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Honestly, I feel like this is a common-ish feeling for most people about their own work versus when they see other people’s work. I think part of it is how close and involved one is with their own work, so they will ultimately be more critical of it and simultaneously be impressed and awestruck at new works/screens that you’re seeing for the first time.

Everyone only has so much time that they can work on things - Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. If you’re bent on doing a serious project, it can take time to plan everything out (including plot, characters, graphics, etc.), actually make all of the graphics (or insert ones that fit) / edit all of the visuals to be a consistent aesthetic, etc. As Alusq touched on, a lot of projects (but not all!) will just change the stat screen background and the battle screen and then stop, leaving in most of the other default UI elements as they were in vanilla (minus maybe the Affinities and Items, but I’m moreso meaning menus, boxes, etc.), but, understandably, there are basically no F2U resources for other UI elements, so that would require ones to be made, which only adds to the amount of labor required.

Visuals are one of the ultimate attractors to a project, so you definitely haven’t been trying too hard. Now that you’ve got a solid base, try focusing on the other areas that you feel you want to improve upon for a while and come back to some of the visuals later on. There might be new assets that have been posted that you want to use or you might have ideas on what you want to do for some of them after you’ve fleshed out other areas. To me, it sometimes feels like creativity begets creativity, where one idea can spur another idea somewhere else - all it takes is the right link popping up to pull the two together.

EDIT-

Looks like there’s a color that’s black in the FE12 battle background - you can see it on the mountains and on the left side near some of the trees. If not missing, then that color in the palette stands out a little.

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oh geez, that looks all kinds of off. back to blue with ya

One thing I always find tricky is balancing how it looks at 1x and 3/4x - sometimes screenshots make something look cluttered and hard to read, but in-game when you play blown up, it looks fine. One suggestion that immediately comes to mind is trying to desaturate the colors a bit. A more washed out look may help make text more readable, but that is also a personal preference of mine w/ GBA aesthetics.

Just remember you can always tweak things later, and it’s fine to walk away from an aspect of the project to focus on another to make progress. You’ll probably get the inspiration or idea later. I used a cleaned up version of the FE7 battle frame for years before I figured out the type of frame I wanted. You’ve already done a lot more than most projects in this regard.

For myself, I’ve been debating updating item icons to give the game a more unique flair, but also like that the icons are easy for people to grasp and understand as is when scrolling using the MMB. I think there is a balance to strike between changing what the player expects vs. customization. Some things come across as arbitrary and confusing (like renaming iron swords to something different with no meaningful difference in how the weapon performs), while others are more so expected and appreciated (updated battle frame and stat screen). You can make any change work if you position it well enough and help the player get acclimmated to it.

Beyond aesthetics and how that ties into the writing, music is also key in establishing tone. Selecting the right song for the mood can really sell what you’re going for. I think Thracia does this exceptionally well, for example. My work is a bit surreal and has a certain sort of goofiness to it, which is why the music selections are a bit offbeat to vanilla FE in some places. Like others have said, it takes time, and it is an evolving process. You won’t nail it on the first try. There’s always time to adjust.

To answer the question, no, it isn’t bad. It’s only bad if it is distracting and thus detracts from the experience of playing the game.

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Times New Roman.

I don’t think you’re trying too hard. I think its good that you’re trying to differentiate your hack from vanilla to make it unique. I’d say its working but make sure to be consistent.

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I like the green playable color, but the contrast in these images is too harsh and hurts my eyes. It feels like the gamma or levels are off while other colors are normal.

Zooming in the image, it doesn’t hurt as much however.

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