Making the Kalimba, or how an Eidolon is made

In the June 19th dev build (which in turn was the hotfix for the June 17th dev build) two new Eidola were added - Climate and Kalimba - both of which i made the code for!

An image of the Climate eidolon's three forms: an orange sun form with horns and a sundress, a blue rain form with long, flowing hair and a snow form with a big bow on the back, as well as the Kalimba eidolon, where Minnatsuki holds a kalimba, wears a suit and has metal prongs coming out of her back
Climate's various forms and the Kalimba, side by side

While Climate’s function was pretty simple - not much more than a weather and form toggle - Kalimba was far more complicated for a simple reason: it’s a fully playable instrument. YNFGs frequently feature instrument effects, but in most cases, they simply play a few randomly selected melodies, much like their predecessor - Yume Nikki’s Flute effect. Since Collective Unconscious is intened to be a multiplayer expeirence first and formost, we wanted the system to be more involved - the Bard job’s performance actions in Final Fantasy XIV were a big inspiration in this regard. Chilling on a bench in Gridania listening to a bard play California Girls while you wait for your duty finder to find you a match so you can level up your umpteenth DPS job is such a hilarious experience and I wouldn’t have it any other way - so imagine getting rickrolled while you’re poking at the wiki, trying to find your way to wherever the Daily Expedition is, and you have the peak Yume Nikki experience.

The very first rough pass of the Kalimba's UI, 17 keys included

I initially intended the Kalimba to match a real kalimba’s tunings and key layout (specifically, a 17 key kalimba), but there were a few problems with that approach:

  • There is no one standard tuning for the kalimba! Usually you tune it to a specific scale, and so the chromatic scale is often left out, especially since only having 17 keys means you have to sacrifice either range or precision, kinda like a float in programming. This means we’d have to provide a way to change the tuning, either in the kalimba UI itself, or as a key combination when opening it, which would be rather unintuitive.
  • RPG Maker 2003 provides a very limited set of keys to the user, and since we’re aiming for the game to be comfortably playable on mobile devices, we use even less of them (and as far as we can tell, there’s no simple way to add controls on the screen based on open menus in EasyRPG). Due to this, it’s incredibly difficult to come up with a comfortable key combination.

In the end, I decided to give the Kalimba a chromatic scale and 12 keys like a regular piano, though I kept the alternating key lengths to match the kalimba theming.

A screenshot of Yume 2kki Online, showing the interface of the toy piano in Urotsuki's Dream Room.
As someone recently put it, "Yume 2kki already did it" is our "The Simpsons already did it"

We had one attempt at a playable instrument in a Yume Nikki fangame to go off of: in Yume 2kki, if you’ve acquired the Trombone effect, you can play on a tiny piano hidden on a shelf in the protagonists’ dream room. It’s played using the arrow keys, and holding SHIFT and/or Z lets you move the playing window, letting you play 16 notes total. I ended up going with a simillar approach for one of the Kalimba modes; the 1 key changes the octave, and either SHIFT or Z move the playing window letting you reach all 12 keys.

Notice how I said “one of the modes”: I wasn’t quite satisfied with this implementation, since it was clunky to play anything on. In Yume 2kki’s case, this was mitigated by the limited scale, but for the kalimba, which worked on a full chromatic scale, it simply wouldn’t do. Therefore, I decided to embrace the concept of a mode intended for keyboards first and foremost, where you could play the notes with layout matching key presses like it’s FL Studio.

A picture of a keyboard. The number keys are highlighted as &#34play notes&#34, the arrow keys are &#34switch octave&#34, X is &#34exit&#34 and the two keys to the right and a row lower to the number keys are &#34drats! foiled again&#34
You see, that's where the trouble began...

Well, not exactly. Remember how I said that RPG Maker 2003 has limited key press handling? This is where it comes to bite us in the proverbial butt. The closest implementation possible was to arrange all the keys next to each other on the number keys, then for the last two awkwardly shift a row of keys down, as the keys directly to the right of the number keys are not exposed as valid key inputs to check for. Technically, Maniacs Patch has had this figured out for a long time already, but we agreed not to use any patches on Collective Unconscious for development convenience until the EasyRPG Editor came out.

Honestly though? It’s not that bad! I was able to get a hang of it pretty quick, and it’s definitely a lot better than dealing with the arrow key layout. I ended up leaving an option to toggle between the two modes in the book, so players can choose whichever playing style suits them best.

From there on out, the rest of Kalimba’s develompent went rather smoothly. Mani provided the sounds for the kalimba (turns out we came up with the idea of the kalimba being fully playable independently, and we were both inspired by FFXIV!), and even though we were just short of a full octave, it was nothing a little bit of tempo adjustment couldn’t fix. Back when I was starting out with the UI work, Millie suggested putting the Eidolon in a world inspired by Animusic, and from that concept I eventually made Star Pillar World.

Three images: a flat colour sketch of an early version of Kalimba's design, a rough version of the sprite, and a cleaned up version of the sprite.
From left to right, Aya's initial concept sketch, Somnium's initial sprite and my cleaned up version of it

The player sprites were the last thing we finished - while the rest of Kalimba’s development happened long before the build’s submission deadline, the sprites were finalized shortly before release. We knew we didn’t want to make it too simple, as was the general consensus for all core Eidola, so we avoided making a simple object head or just giving a regular Minnatsuki the kalimba. We ended up drawing inspiration from the suit pseudoeffect I put in Smiling Pen Office, as we wanted to give Minnatsuki a more masculine outfit for a change. We also gave them prongs on the back and a hole in the face to match the appearance of a kalimba, which I initially found a bit awkward, but it’s really grown on me since then. The base sprites were mostly made by Somnium, but I cleaned up the initial sprite and handled the return sprites.

And just like that, we had another completed Eidolon on our hands! I hope that you’ll enjoy messing around with it when the game eventually releases on YNOProject.