State of the Art – June 2018

Welcome to State Of The Art, June 2018 edition! This monthly progress report is written by Frank DiCola and is focused entirely on how the game’s visuals have improved in the past month.

I’m going to try something new this month. Before we hit the spoiler part of the article, I’ll give you a brief update about the state of the art, and how much work is remaining on the aesthetic side of things. There will be no pictures, GIFs, videos, or bulleted lists, so don’t worry about seeing spoilers! (Just don’t scroll down too fast. You’ve been warned!)

Missed last month’s State of the Art? The May edition is right here.

 


Spoiler-Free Progress Report

When May began, I had just polished Worlds 5 and 6. However, all of the Levels in the game were in a “toss-up” state. There was no indication as to whether Jack could begin optimizing them. That’s a slow process that he doesn’t want to do twice, so we needed some way of determining which ones I was finished working on. (Optimized Levels are difficult to edit, sacrificing changeability for faster runtimes) As I turned my attention to animation, I realized only 2 of the game’s 10 cutscenes were animated, and none of them had any audio. I tried a weird system of putting audio cues in manually through Unity Events, but that failed miserably. World 7, the game’s final set of Levels, still looked like it did during the prototype phase. My initial artwork on those Levels came across as dated and I really disliked the look. Even worse, the toolkit I established for that World last year didn’t seem like it was going to provide a good foundation. It used way too many polys and didn’t account for the specific nature of many of this World’s puzzles. The outlook was bleak.

As of June 5th, 5 out of the game’s 10 cutscenes have been fully animated. That includes body animations, facial animations, effects, cues, intros, and outros. The SFX for those cutscenes was created independently by our audio dream team (Alba S. Torremocha and Noah Kellman), which means I was able to focus my attention elsewhere during the past four weeks. I greatly improved the World 7 toolkit and reduced the poly count while increasing the quality. That World has a really distinct look to it, one that I think is appropriate for the end of our journey together. I polished 2 of the 5 Levels in World 7, meaning I won’t return to them and I believe they are final game quality. (It also means they are ready for the last coat of audio paint before Jack’s final stamp-of-approval.) Speaking of which, we solved our “toss-up” problem by creating an online doc where I can label a Level “Gold” or “Needs Polish.” If a Level is Gold, it has my stamp of approval. Obviously, I want to get through as many of those as possible because I’ve already done a ton of work on those Levels and I don’t want to neglect the work that remains undone. This month, I “gold-stamped” Worlds 0, 1, and 2.

What’s next: To finish this game, I’ll need to animate five more cutscenes, polish three more Levels, create footprint effects for four more Worlds, and test every Level in the game on multiple iOS devices. That’s a lot of work! I’m going chonologically, so the cutscenes, footprints, and Levels remaining are all in the later half of the game. That will be my goal this month.

You’re all caught up. Now, if you want a sneak peek at some of the artwork I did this month, read on… but beware of game spoilers!

 

 

 


SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this article contains screenshots, GIFs and videos of later sections of the game. If you want to experience them in all their majesty for the first time on your mobile device when the game launches, don’t read on!


 

 

 

 

World-2-Footsteps.gif

Obe Leaves Tiny Footprints Behind Him!

Let’s start with something fun that isn’t even much of a spoiler – Obe leaves tiny footprints behind him when he walks! On certain Worlds, when the terrain calls for it, we generate a tiny mesh and a particle burst where Obe’s foot lands. This mesh disappears over time, giving the illusion that Obe is squashing through mud or snow. If there are other characters in the scene, they leave footprints too. We don’t do it all the time though, because any effect can be taken too far. Footprints appear for the first time chronologically in Level 2-1, “Docks”, which you can see in the GIF above.

I know what you’re probably thinking: “you guys have an entire game to finish and you’re focusing on this insignificant detail!?” However, that is entirely the point of the polish phase! Now is the time to work on tiny details that will charm players and get them Tweeting & Instagramming about our game.

You see, humans are funny creatures. We tend to take a lot for granted, and make a big deal out of the smallest things. There’s so much we expect from games as a baseline that I think our enjoyment purely comes from moments where game developers go “above and beyond.” This is anecdotal, but my Twitter feed is always filled with game developers and fans who find tiny insignificant things in video games and then breathlessly announce “THIS IS WHY <game> IS THE BEST GAME EVER CREATED IN <current year>!!” My personal belief is that players gain a sense of pride and attachment when they find something in a game that they believe no one else has noticed yet. Hence, if you add in a lot of small details, you’ll create a lot of little moments in your game that create a bond between the player and your product.

 

Cutscene-Animation

Five Cutscenes Are Now Complete!

I cannot share all of the full video files of the game’s cutscenes with you yet, since five of them have been animated but none of them have sound. Even if they were done, I don’t think I’d want the solo cutscene videos out on the Internet like that. However, there are some things I can show you just to prove that I haven’t been goofing off all month long.

Let’s begin with a treat! Here is the game’s second cutscene, which happens just three Levels into Where Shadows Slumber. If you played a beta build at an event recently, you probably remember it as the annoying cutscene you couldn’t skip. (I’m working on that!) Obe has been thrown into a jail cell and his lantern has been taken from him. Alba and Noah sent it back to us with a first-draft of the audio dub, and it’s great:

I’m so excited to see what the other cutscenes are like with audio! Tomorrow I’ll be doing a recording session with them to get some voices into the audio mix as well. We’ll never record a word of English dialogue, but our characters can still make funny faux-speech noises and grunts. Since the rest of the cutscenes have no audio, here’s some short GIFs of the animations in action to tide you over:

Cutscene-Short-Wardens.gif

Obe “meets” the Wardens in a bad neighborhood of the Forest…

Cutscene-Short-Lion.gif

He’s trapped! It was a door the whole time!

Cutscene-Short-Wolf.gif

Obe is waylaid as Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” plays in the background…

Cutscene-Short-Beach.gif

Waking up on a random beach? We’ve all been there.

That’s enough sneak peeks for you! I can’t show you the full cutscenes just yet, can I? There has to be something left for you once you buy the game…

Next, let’s discuss the World polish I did this month!

 

Paradise-Header.png

Welcome To Paradise

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that over a year ago I expressed an interest in modeling an entire game World after the architecture of Bermuda. I won’t go into the details, since I wrote a whole blog post about it, but you should read that and come back here!

As I mentioned above in the progress report, I wasn’t crazy about how this toolkit looked when I first created it. But now I think it looks fantastic! Check out the before-and-after comparison of Level 7-1, “Ladder”, below. The first image (with the pink background) is how the Level looked up until last week. The sky was loud yet flat, the buttons looked repetitive, the house had no style, and the grass was way too dark. I didn’t even complete the ridges on the ends of this floating island! Speaking of which, why are these islands even floating?!

7-1-Old

The picture below is a polished version created using modular pieces, hyper-specific artwork, and some new cool effects specific to this Level. The gradient background and fun pastel colors pay a nice homage to our muse, Monument Valley, while the window lights seem to pop off the screen. We get a real sense that Obe has come to this place in the dead of night, as he ascends ever higher.

7-1-Ladder

I’m not as sold on the next image, which is from Level 7-2, “Pond.” It’s always tough to tell when I’m being properly restrained, and when I’m just being lazy. Does this Level have enough going on? It seems like there is a lot of dead space. And yet, due to the constraints of the puzzle, this is not a Level I can go totally crazy with. I actually tried that once and I completely broke the Level and Jack had to put it back together. Whoops!

 

7-2-Feedback.png

I hope this looks like a peaceful pond, and not a run-down YMCA swimming pool. This is a really cool Level, so I want to do it justice. Please leave a comment below if you want to help me improve the artwork for this Level! I really do check your feedback and I find it helpful to have outside input. After looking at these Levels for so long, I begin to lose perspective. Help me out!

 

Conclusion

This month, I want to put World 7 to bed. I also want to clear the way for Jack to be able to put his golden stamp of approval on every Level. (As an added bonus, I usually find bugs whenever I’m gold-stamping Levels. The more I find now, the less stressful our final testing period will be!) If I can manage that, I’ll officially be done working on the game’s puzzles.

As for the game’s story, I won’t be able to finish every cutscene in just four weeks. I need some time for World 7 polish, and cutscenes tend to take one week each. Progress on those will be slow, because animation is tedious. The good news is, it’s very easy to put in fake cutscenes when we need to do builds. (It’s just a Unity file that says “go to the next Level in 5 seconds, this cutscene isn’t done yet!) That means we can do a lot of testing even as I work on the remaining animations.

But silver linings aside, there is still a mountain of work left to do on this game. The game is nearly complete, but my trek through animation hell is just beginning…

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

We hope you enjoyed this update about the game’s artwork. Have a question about aesthetics that wasn’t mentioned here? You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Inside Animation: Face Morphing

When I was showing off Where Shadows Slumber earlier this year at MAGFest 2018, one of my fellow game developers gave me a stellar compliment. As he watched the game’s second cutscene, he said “these animations are so evocative.” What he meant was that the animation was conveying a large amount of emotional detail even though the characters never speak a word. This is especially impressive considering the cutscenes don’t even have sound effects yet!

Sometimes, we only remember the one negative comment we get in a sea of compliments. But for once, a positive remark stuck with me. Evocative. If there’s one thing I can do as the animator for this game, it is to ensure that the player feels a range of emotions when they watch the game’s story unfold. But how can this be accomplished when our character is so small on the screen? More practically, how is this actually achieved using a 3D modeling studio and the Unity 3D engine?

This blog post is a quick glimpse at how I set up the facial animation rigs for the characters in Where Shadows Slumber.

 

3Ds

First: The Old and Stupid Way

Before I show you how I animate the faces in the current build of the game, I should show you the first way I tried it back when we were creating a Demo of the game. The old Obe model, shown above, had a perfect sphere for a head. In the image above, it’s grey. Then, I put in two snowman eyeballs as flat discs (they look teal in the image above) and a mouth plane that wrapped around his ball-head (obscured above). So far, so bad – nothing can be animated here! These objects are static. His face won’t look evocative at all.

My answer was to create little patches of skin that could be moved around to simulate facial animation. Though they look peach in this image above, they would blend in 100% with his skin tone thanks to Jack’s shader. My philosophy was simple – if the skin slabs were out of the way, his eyes were open. If they blocked his eyes partially, that was a facial expression. In the image above, near the bottom-right, you can see that Obe’s unsuspecting opponent has his skin slabs set to angry because they partially block his eyes in a slanted direction. By moving the slabs around in time with the animation, facial expressions were simulated.

This was supposed to be a “quick and dirty” way of doing facial animation, but it ended up being a “takes forever and looks terrible” way of doing facial animation. I’ll never return to an amateur system like this! The silliest part is that 3DS Max has a system perfectly set up for preset facial animations called Morpher.

 

HeadAnimations

The Morpher Method

By spending more time modeling Obe’s head, I was able to create a flexible skull with some textures mapped onto it (black for features, white for skin) and preset animations with Morpher. This skull can be tuned to different emotions, and even combinations of emotions. Above, you can see how Obe can express a range of poses: angry, devastated, confused, joyous, blissful. Now that you’ve seen the final product above, here’s how to set up your own:

Morph-Base

Step 1: Model the base head

Spend some time crafting a base head for your character. Note that you’ll be unable to edit it once you begin Morphing, so take your time. Create flexible eyes, a mouth, a nose and ears (if your character has those) and be sure to add enough loops so they can move around later without looking jagged. This time, I gave Obe detached cartoon eyebrows so I could be more ambitious with his facial expressions.

Morph-Poses.JPG

Step 2: Duplicate the head as a Copy (not an Instance) and pose it

Now you must copy the base head and move it somewhere else in the scene. (I like to make a Game of Thrones style wall of faces.) Edit the vertices on this model into an extreme pose, such as furious anger or deep sadness. This pose will be what “100%” of this emotion looks like. Note that the vertices from the base head are going to move (morph, if you prefer) into the new positions you give them here, as well as every point in-between. Pay close attention to the topology of your model when you choose new positions for these verts, and your animations will look smooth. Above, you can see I do mouth poses and eye poses separately, so a wide open mouth (agape) can exist separately or simultaneously with wide open eyes and raised eyebrows (shock).

Morph-Combo

Step 3: Connect your pose to the base head in the Morpher modifier

The base head will have the Morpher modifier on it. None of the others need it. From the base head, you can use Pick Object From Scene to slot in certain poses as animation sliders. Then, using the arrows shown next to the poses, you can “morph” these targets from 0 to 100. 0 is going to look like your base head – 100 is going to look like 100% of the pose. If you combine two poses, as I did above, you may get weird results. But in this case, shocked eyes and a mouth agape work well together.

Morph-Gallery.JPG

Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 for every face pose you’ll need for this character

I made separate poses for Obe’s mouth (left of center) and his eyes (right of center). The yellow shape in the center is his base head. I tried to do every emotion I’d need, as well as building blocks like “shut R” for the right eye being closed. One thing I didn’t need to do is detailed mouth animation for talking, since he never says anything in a real human language. He just wails in terror a lot. But if you were doing this for a regular animated film, you’d want a whole set of mouth animations for the various sounds we make with our mouths (Chuh! Puh! Quah! Teh!) I’m happy I didn’t need that, because I hate doing those.

Morph-Swag.JPG

Step 5: Animate in a Scene when it’s all ready

This massive setup time bears fruit once you begin animating. Having a flexible facial animation system is remarkable. I love this system so much, and I never have to worry about whether Obe is expressing the emotion I want. Everything is correct and his face is super easy to read, even at a distance. Here, he’s giving an “…OK” kind of look as he escapes prison early in the game’s story. Though this look is not programmed in directly, it’s a combination of four Morph Targets: left eye closed, right eye closed, mouth closed, and “serious.” That’s the beauty of working with Morpher!

 

If you’re building your own facial animation system, be warned that it’s a lot of work. However, it will pay off in the end. Good luck making your animations evocative! Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments, over email, or on Twitter. I’m always eager to help. Happy blending, everyone!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

We hope you enjoyed this technical look at the systems behind the game’s artwork. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Easter: SXSW Feedback, Release Date, and More!

Hey everyone! We have a new Easter tradition at Game Revenant, where we go over some of the feedback Jack and I received when we were at the South By Southwest music festival earlier this month.

Overall, the reception to the game was really positive – but we’ve been trying to iterate quickly on some of the ideas you guys have been giving us. So without further ado, here’s the top three pieces of feedback we received at the show, and our responses!

 

AprilFools-LowStakes.png

Feedback #1: The Stakes Are Too Low

Jack and I envisioned Where Shadows Slumber as a relaxing puzzle game made in the mold of mobile classics like Monument ValleyLara Croft: GO, and Valley of War Adventure Run. Because of that, there are no enemies in the game, or any way for Obe (the protagonist) to die. We didn’t want you to have to restart a puzzle in the middle of a Level just because you couldn’t react to something in time. In the image above, this Walker won’t damage or hurt Obe because he’s just there to serve as an obstacle in the puzzle.

However, our fans have made their voices heard loud and clear: the stakes are too low in our game! There is no tension. There is no excitement. There needs to be violence. There needs to be a way for Obe to die. With precious few months of development time remaining, we are dedicating considerable resources to this piece of feedback. Our response?

Response #1: Obe Can Die In Terrible, Confusing Ways!

Now, thanks to some quick redesigning and a few late nights programming, Obe can die randomly in the middle of gameplay if he steps on Death Spikes. (Development name, subject to change) Here’s what they look like in-game:

AprilFools-Spikes.png

“How will I ever get past this important intersection?”

One of our more controversial ideas is Secret Death Spikes. The idea is that they’ll be scattered all over the map, so the player doesn’t know where they are. Then, when a Player steps on one, Obe’s flesh is ripped apart and his head is sent flying:

AprilFoolsDEATH.gif

That’s how they gecha…

We’ll push this build out to our internal testing group and see what they think! Now, you might be wondering what happens when you die. Philosophers have been trying to sort that one out for millennia! But in Where Shadows Slumber, you’ll lose one of your precious lives and restart the Level.

How do you get more lives? Read on!

 

AprilFools-Money.jpg

Feedback #2: This Game Won’t Make Money

Jack and I also envisioned Where Shadows Slumber as a straight-up pay-once premium title that doesn’t utilize any exploitative monetization schemes to bilk people out of their hard earned cash. Our belief was that if we were very honest with the community, they would reward us by purchasing the game at a fair market price and leaving a positive review on the App Store.

The feedback from the community has been monolithic: don’t do this! Trusting people to seek out fair trades in the marketplace is a fool’s errand. People are morons! Obviously they’ll never pay for a thing when they could not pay for a not thing. It’s so obvious!

Response #2: Loot Boxes Will Make Money!

We’ve become convinced that the premium model is no longer viable, and that modified premium models (such as a try-before-you-buy model) are not viable either. The people have spoken: they want free games with micro-transactions, in-game advertisements, and timers! 2018 is here, and we dare not defy the calendar year.

“Our goal is to make sure people can pay enough money to basically not even have to play the game.”

For this reason, shiny loot boxes are being added into the game and Where Shadows Slumber is officially going free-to-play! Loot boxes can be earned in-game by logging in once per financial quarter, but they can also be purchased via the main menu if you’re in a hurry! Inside every shiny loot box, you’ll have a chance to get an array of dizzying prizes. Just look at all of the cosmetic skins you can equip Obe with:

AprilFools-Skins.png

Left to right: Classic Obe, Spanish Inquisition Obe, Breath of the Wild Obe, ISIS Obe

But we won’t stop at just cosmetic items. Loot boxes aren’t fun unless they have a satisfying, tangible effect on the virtual world. We’re partnering with Electronic Arts to bring their popular Star Card system from Star Wars: Battlefront II into Where Shadows Slumber! People just can’t stop talking about about about about about about about these Star Cards. That’s how fun & satisfying they are!

AprilFools-Odds.png

Actual percentages included above, pursuant to Line 3 of Section 15 of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006

Star Cards in Where Shadows Slumber will allow you to power up Obe to make him the incredible puzzle-action hero of your dreams. If you don’t get a Star Card from a loot box, don’t feel bad! You can use the colorful Shadow Dust you’ve stockpiled to upgrade your Star Cards. Powerups include running faster, more lives-per-day, auto-skipping Levels, auto-skipping cutscenes, auto-skipping the credits, and even giving Obe a gun during cutscenes!

AprilFools-Gun.png

“Go ahead. Make my day.”

Why lootboxes, you ask? Here’s a quote from Jackson H. Kelly, our Chief Monetization Officer: “Our goal is to make sure people can pay enough money to basically not even have to play the game. We want to take the stressful, mentally challenging experience of solving a puzzle, and turn that into a swift, painless transaction.”

When asked what could justify such a sudden change, he said “People like paying for things at a cash register more than they enjoy playing games, so we’re going to encourage that.”

EA could not be reached for a statement.

 

AprilFools-WaitingMark.png

Feedback #3: Why Isn’t The Game Done Yet?

Jack and I also envisioned Where Shadows Slumber being released on the App Store and Google Play sometime during our lifetimes. However, due to the time constraints placed on this lil’ indie team (not to mention all of these exciting changes) we have not been able to get the game out the door just yet. However, fans are understandably frustrated. (see above) They want a release date to be announced! Today, I am proud to announce the date Where Shadows Slumber will be available for purchase on the App Store…

Answer #3: We’re Launching On Nov. 24th, 2067!

Just imagine. 2067. The “future” – at least, that’s what they used to call it. Now they just call it The Rinks. A beautiful array of orange cyber leaves crunch under your cyber boots as you walk down the idyllic cybewalk to the home you grew up in. Some punk kids skate by, chatting in a language that’s a mix of English, North Korean, and Blockchain. You walk through the front door (literally) to find your “family” huddled around a cyber television, tuned to the color of a dead sky. It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2067. What will you talk about with the androids that replaced your family? The ongoing war between Earth and Mars? The debate over the effectiveness of flying autonomous self-driving cars vs. self-automating driving flyers?

Never fear – there’s a brand new game available on the App Store called Where Shadows Slumber that you can download free of charge! Running on sleek, state-of-the-fifty-years-ago technology, Where Shadows Slumber is a free-to-play lootbox collecting game where one wrong move will rip the flesh from your cyber, cyber bones.* We hope you enjoy playing it as much as we enjoyed spending our entire lives creating it!

*Puzzles sold separately

 

AprilFools-Phone

Got More Feedback?

Jack and I are suckers for feedback. We just love hearing it! We just can’t get enough of your sweet, sweet, comments, haha, ha. My multiple chins and I are standing by, ready and willing to answer any and all emails, tweets, and creepy text messages you send me. Rest assured that if you contact Game Revenant with some feedback about Where Shadows Slumber, I will do my best to respond in 1-2 business years.

Thanks for reading this special edition of the blog, and Happy Easter by some strange coincidence!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Happy March 32nd, ya filthy animal. Our regular blog posts will resume on Tuesdays, as always. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Help Us Test Where Shadows Slumber!

Hello everyone!

This week’s blog post is a quick announcement to let everyone know that the South By Southwest (SXSW) build of Where Shadows Slumber is available for testing. We brought 13 Levels to SXSW last weekend, and now you can play them on your phone!

(Do you want to join our open beta? Android users can sign up on their own by going to our Google Beta page. However, iOS users should email me at contact@GameRevenant.com to be added to our list!)

 

SXSW-Out-Header

What’s New In This Build

If you tested our previous build, you played the first 13 Levels of the game. The Worlds we showed off were the Forest, the Jail, and the River – in that order! This time, we took the River out (I’ve been working on it all week) and replaced it with the City. The City is actually World 4, so if you notice a spike in difficulty, that’s why. Like last time, this build is 13 Levels, with the 5 City Levels at the end. The first 8 will be the same. Sorry about that! Testing isn’t all glitz and glamour – sometimes it’s about playing the same thing over and over again until you find every last bug.

The City World is really cool – as you can see in the images posted here, it’s an impoverished desert city under heavy guard. The shadows from Obe’s lantern cascade over crumbling walls and the silhouettes of soldiers as you make your way to a palace on top of the city. All the while, a sandstorm is raging and Obe’s clothing flaps furiously in the breeze.

SXSW-Out-Slum.png

There’s one more surprise – we have cutscene animations now! They don’t have sound just yet, so your phone isn’t broken. (Don’t put that in the survey, we know already!) You’ll see both cutscenes right after you beat the third Level. There’s two in a row, for story purposes. Sorry about that. This won’t happen too often, but sometimes the story requires a climax at the end of one World followed by a brief intro to another.

There won’t be too many more beta tests, so please take this opportunity to download the build and try it out before we remove it from the store. To prevent people from getting full copies of the game or getting the experience spoiled, we may not release the full game to our open beta audience. Please test it and give us your feedback!

 

SXSW-Escape.png

“Which one of you is ‘Grongus’?”

What We’re Looking For

Please fill out the survey for this build! You can find it here, as a Google Form. Answer all of the required questions and as many of the optional ones as you have time for. We go through this feedback in detail as a time and it really helps us.

There are plenty of bugs we already found at SXSW, and we’re sure you’ll experience them too. Thanks for testing!

SURVEY LINK: https://goo.gl/forms/fkQHZBtnPnR8boWL2

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Thanks for testing our game! Feel free to share your thoughts on the most recent build in the Comments section. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

State of the Art – March 2018

Welcome to State Of The Art, March 2018 edition! This monthly progress report is written by Frank DiCola and is focused entirely on how the game’s visuals have improved in the past month.

Missed last month’s State of the Art? The February edition is right here: click me!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains screenshots, GIFs and videos of later sections of the game. If you want to experience them in all their majesty for the first time on your mobile device when the game launches, don’t read on!

 


 

 

3-1-Noria

A Whole New Aqueduct

Like the other unfinished Worlds in Where Shadows Slumber, the Aqueduct used to look pretty dumpy. It was passable, but the colors were lifeless and the geometry was too perfectly straight. There was nothing about it that made me love it. As the game’s artist, that’s a pretty bad feeling. I never want any section of the game to make me recoil in disgust. My goal, as I’ve said before, is to make every Level my favorite Level. When it comes time to add screenshots of this game to the App Store, I should think to myself: “How can I possibly choose!? All thirty-eight Levels are so perfect and photogenic!”

If you read last week’s piece, titled Creating a Level: From Concept to Finished Product, the GIF above will look familiar. I chronicled the entire development of this Level (called Noria), from the time it was just a pencil sketch in Jack’s notebook all the way to our finished awesome Level. Here’s a look at the rest of the Levels in World 3, the Aqueduct.

 

 

 

3-2-Tradeoff.gif

Level 3-2, “Tradeoff”

3-3-Anchor.gif

Level 3-3, “Anchor”

3-4-Torus.gif

Level 3-4, “Torus”

3-5-Island.gif

Level 3-5, “Island”

I won’t return to the Aqueduct before launching the game, but if you really have a critique that’s valid and you absolutely must make your voice heard, comment below this post and I will read it! Who knows – you may change how the final game comes out!

 

Card_City.png

The Dust Storm Is Here!

They say you should never have a favorite child, and I think that’s probably good life advice. But I think I do have a favorite World, and it’s the City. I really wanted to include something like this in the game, and I put a lot of love into these Levels. It’s a crazy World where we go through a ton of locales in just five Levels, from the “bad part of town”, to a military tower, to a luxurious palace. And this is all during a sandstorm!

4-1-Slum.gif

Level 4-1, “Slum”

4-2-Alley.gif

Level 4-2, “Alley”

4-3-Tower.gif

Level 4-3, “Tower”

4-4-Fountain.gif

Level 4-4, “Fountain”

4-5-Labyrinth.gif

Level 4-5, “Labyrinth”

What do you think of these Levels? We are bringing these Levels to SXSW, so your advice is more than welcome! Slam that comment section with your sweet, sweet critiques. I need them to survive o_o

 

River Header.gif

Hell Revisited

I’ve just begun polishing World 2, the River. We aren’t bringing this one to SXSW next week, so I won’t get a chance to keep working on it for a little while. But so far I think it’s really cool! It needed a modest redesign in order to make the aesthetic work and I believe I finally nailed it.

The biggest change is that the ugly Lincoln Log wall setup I had is now going away. I was never really in love with it to begin with. There was something too neat and orderly about it. This is a swampy river that leads right back to the hell-jail you just escaped from! It should feel gross, a bit disordered, and disorderly. To achieve that, I’m working with a toolkit of gnarly trees, rickety boardwalks, and custom ashen rocks.

screen_1460x1948_2018-03-05_17-03-44.png

Here’s a sneak peek! What do you think… too much vignette, or not enough?

Still to do: redesign the Walkers to look like swamp denizens, add more motion to the clutter and plant life, and finish the remaining four River Levels. Expect that and more next time, in the April edition of State of the Art.

Thanks for reading!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

We hope you enjoyed this update about the game’s artwork. Have a question about aesthetics that wasn’t mentioned here? You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Creating a Level: From Concept to Finished Product

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a post about how we make Levels when working on Where Shadows Slumber. The only problem was a lack of documentation. I forgot to take screenshots of the early stages of the Levels we’ve completed so far. What I really wanted to do was show our audience the growth of a Level, from it’s earliest conception and then show the various stages of the design process along the way.

When I thought of this idea, I tabled the blog and decided to wait until I started on a new batch of Levels… and here we are! We’re going to take an inside look at Level 3-1, Noria, the first Level of the Aqueduct World.

 

Maker:S,Date:2017-8-17,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E:Y

Step 1: Draw The Level

Every Level has a reason for being in the game. Noria is the first Level in the Aqueduct World, which makes it extra special. Whenever we design the first Level of a World, we like to communicate to the Player:

  • Why the World is going to feel different from the other Worlds in the game
  • What mechanics you’ll be dealing with in this World – especially new ideas

For the Aqueduct, we wanted to make it all about mechanical devices, switches, rotating things and whirring machines. Our game doesn’t exactly have a precise historical setting, but it’s fair to say it isn’t modern day. This gives us some leeway with technology. It has to work, but it can look really old.

MVIMG_20171025_141620.jpg

Jack’s notebook!

The Aqueduct World is all about Buttons. Buttons are Nodes that do something when you step onto them. There are all kinds of Buttons, but the most basic Button does a thing every time you step on it, no matter how many times you step on it.

To show that off, Jack designed a Level (above) where the only way to cast shadows and move the light was with a single Button. In addition to that, there are Buttons near each light in the Level to turn them on and off. The proximity of the light to the Button it’s attached to is an intuitive connection. These Buttons work like regular domestic light switches too, so it’s a cheap way of using existing Player knowledge about the real world and transmuting it into knowledge of our game.

When a Level exists in this form, the only thing we can really do is discuss it. Jack will attempt to guide a very confused Frank through the mechanics of the Level. I’ll try to poke holes in it (literally, with my pencil) and find problems with the design. We’ve never shown these sketches to testers because it’s too high-level for them to understand. If we like the idea of the Level, Jack makes a grey box prototype of it in Unity for us to test.

 

Noria-Greybox

This Level doesn’t look too special yet, huh? Just wait!

Step 2: Make A Grey-Box Prototype Level

With a design solidified, now we’re ready to make a version of the Level that can be played and tested. It doesn’t need to look pretty yet, so we use basic template cubes to represent walkable space. Affectionately called grey box prototypes, this technique is how we prototype every Level in the game. Watch a video of me beating the Level below:

As you can see, it’s playable in this stage, and everything works. You can solve the puzzle, which means testers can assess the strength of our design. (We just tell them to ignore the visuals.) We brought this Level, in this format, to AwesomeCon 2017 looking for feedback from players. When we show grey box prototypes to people, we want to make sure they can complete the puzzle. More than that, we want to make sure that they solved it on purpose instead of just by brute force. If we get good feedback, we proceed to Step 3.

 

Noria.png

Step 3: Draw Some Concept Art

This might seem backward, but this is the time when I draw a concept image of the Level. Why do I do this after the Level has been prototyped, and not before? It’s because Jack knows best which Nodes need to go where, and I don’t. I need to take cues from him about where everything must be, which often includes the actual length and width of shadow casting objects.

This is actually beneficial. It gives me good constraints to work with. I draw a paper sketch and say, “OK, if everything absolutely has to be in this location, what can I do with it? What makes sense for the setting [Aqueduct] whether it’s man-made or organic?” As you can see in the drawing, the following ideas have been spawned:

  • Obe should enter from a pipe (bottom right) to match the cutscene that plays directly before this Level.
  • The pillar now looks like it belongs – it’s a crumbling structural element of the Aqueduct, a man-made structure in disrepair.
  • The mechanism by which the lamp moves left to right is not just a magical back-and-forth switch. Now it’s a waterwheel! Why a wheel? Google “Noria”…
  • The lights need to look like actual man-made lights since they are powered by Buttons on the ground. Why not lamps?
  • There are stone pathways going horizontally that have crumbled over time. Those need to be repaired by shadows.
  • The bridges going vertically are metal grates that allow water to pass under them. This is an Aqueduct, we can’t just have standing water blocked in!
  • There’s a back wall with a door. I like to give the Player as many visual cues as possible that the finish line is an actual exit.

The concept art phase is another chance for us to critique the design. If we know the puzzle is good, but it produces an awkward-looking Level, we have the opportunity to reconfigure things. Perhaps the exit needs to be in a different place? Maybe objects should be closer or further apart? Now is the time to match the design to the intended context, the Aqueduct. Once I have good concept art to work from, I proceed to Step 4!

 

DesignBlog-Noria-FirstPass.png

Step 4: First Aesthetic Pass

Now it’s time to take that ugly grey box prototype (sorry Jack) and make it look and sound beautiful! I’m ready to apply my toolkit of Aqueduct paths, walls and bridges to the design. Once the art is laid down, Alba and Noah have their first chance to put some audio effects into the Level and set the mood. It makes a huge difference: now the Level doesn’t sound like it takes place in a silent death vacuum! Creepy chimes and rushing water converge to give the Level a sense of place. Here’s a video of it all in action:

The Level doesn’t look grey anymore! That’s awesome. But… it also doesn’t look finished, does it? This kind of art would pass for a student game or something in a game jam, but we want to be an App Store Editor’s Pick and win a ton of awards. That means the art needs to be worth the price people paid to download the game. It needs to be extraordinary! It needs to be… polished.

 

DesignBlog-Noria-Polished

Step 5: Aesthetic Polish

Polish is a game design term for taking your finished product and finishing it again so it’s even better – much like shining a shoe with shoe polish. You want to make your Level shine! If you’re making an island paradise, it needs to be the most relaxing paradise the player has ever experienced. If it’s a scummy slum in a city, you need to make that slum as dirty as possible. Everything needs to be pushed to the extreme.

My personal philosophy is that I want to turn every Level in the game into my favorite one. Obviously, I know that can’t happen. But at least while I’m working on it, I can take something boring and give it life. Speaking of which, this is usually where animation enters the picture.

animate (verb)

1530s, “to fill with boldness or courage,” from Latin animatus past participle of animare “give breath to,” also “to endow with a particular spirit, to give courage to, enliven,” from anima “life, breath”

Animation is the most time-consuming part of aesthetic design, and it requires a lot of setup as well. It makes sense for this to come last. But it’s definitely the most important artistic layer. Bad video games tend to feel frozen and stale: great games are always in motion, even when everything appears still. I think our modern brains are conditioned to assume that a screen containing no motion is frozen, as if the app crashed. If you look at games with a high level of polish (Blizzard’s Hearthstone comes to mind), there’s always something moving around to give the player the illusion of life. The goal of polish is to make your game appear to crackle with the spark of life. See for yourself:

Pretty different, huh? Our water shader adds some much needed liveliness to the water, and makes it feel like a rushing stream. Buttons now move and bounce under Obe’s weight. An animated glyph on the ground lets you know where you’ve just clicked. The lamp posts are now chains dangling from the ceiling, which lets them sway gently on a loop.

The other perk of animation is that it allows you to add a third sense to the game: touch (or, feel). In a very real sense, players can only experience your game using their eyes and ears. But if you do your job right as a game designer, certain elements in your game will make the player feel things. Have you ever gotten hit in a video game and exclaimed out loud “ow!” after seeing what happened to your avatar? You didn’t actually feel pain, but something about the experience was immersive enough that it made you connect with your character. That’s what polish is for. That’s how games rise to the top!

 

yellow-happy-smile-526968

forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever

Step 6: You Never Finish, This Goes On Forever

Here’s the dirty little secret about my strategy for artistic polish: I’ll never be finished. I will never finish this game. I will work on this game every day until I am dead. It doesn’t even matter if I’m improving the artwork, even if I’m actively making everything worse I will never finish anything in this game.

Whoops! That’s not what I meant to say. Where was I?

Eventually, you need to stop working on a Level so you can move on. This is always a heartbreaking moment in game development. If I could choose any superpower, I would choose a very specific one – the ability to do things on my computer without time slipping through my fingers like grains of sand into an endless void.

[  . _ . ]

You have to move on so you can finish the rest of your game, so when do you do that? It’s at the point where your hours of input are only reaping very marginal gains. People won’t spend an eternity looking at your Levels, so you shouldn’t spend an eternity working on them either. If anything looks truly awful at launch, you can always sneakily patch in fixes that you missed. Just say you’re fixing bugs. and blame the programmer!

Besides, I can always improve the artwork again when we remaster Where Shadows Slumber for BlackBerry…

 


 

I’ve been working on this blog post for too long, and now my hours of writing input are reaping only marginal gains. Time to end this post. Thanks for looking at this inside scoop into our process! If you’re wondering why game development takes so long, imagine doing this for all 38 Levels in the game. That’s not even including the cutscenes…

Say, that gives me an idea for another blog post!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

We hope you enjoyed this deep dive into our development process. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter directly using the handle @GameRevenant, find us on Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

 

How To Test Mobile Games

This article will be constantly kept up to date with the most relevant information you need to become a mobile BETA tester. (Last updated February 2nd, 2018)


 

Hello, and thank you for taking part in our beta testing program. This is the period of the development cycle where we are sharing our video game with the general public. This public test is intended to get feedback about our product in the months leading up to its final release.

Our testers come from all walks of life. We have people testing our game of many different career paths, ages, and backgrounds. We understand that not everyone is a super nerd! Some of this stuff is difficult if you’ve never done it before. Please follow this step-by-step guide to downloading our game. Thank you for your patience!

Send Frank an email at contact@GameRevenant.com if you need any help! You can also tweet @GameRevenant, or contact us on Facebook at fb.com/GameRevenant.

 


 

First, what kind of phone do you have? Scroll down to the section below that describes your device: we support Apple and Android.

 

iphone-x-unboxing-09

Apple (iPhone or iPad)

Apple’s policies require that everyone receives a direct email invitation to test the game. That means you must have already been on our email list in order to test the Apple version. If you were not already on our list, reach out to Frank at contact@GameRevenant.com and you’ll be added.

Otherwise, proceed to these steps:

  1. An email will appear in your Inbox that says “Game Revenant has invited you to test “Where Shadows Slumber” – open it on your mobile device.
  2. Press the large blue button that says “View in TestFlight.”
  3. An invitation will appear that tells you to get TestFlight from the App Store and gives you a code to redeem. Follow those steps. Don’t worry, TestFlight is free.
  4. Now that you have the TestFlight app on your device, and the code has been redeemed, open TestFlight. Press the green Install button.
  5. The game will now take a few minutes to install.
  6. Once installed, the button will now be blue and say Open. Press it.
  7. Play the game and enjoy!

Don’t forget to fill out our survey!

 

 

istock-495277951-58de67055f9b584683605c93

Android (Google, Samsung, etc)

  1. On your Android device, click this link.
  2. (Alternatively, search Where Shadows Slumber on the Google Play Store on your Android device, and select the one that says BETA in red text)
  3. Now press the green Install button above the pictures.
  4. After the game has been downloaded to your phone, find it and tap it to open it.
  5. Play the game and enjoy!

Don’t forget to fill out our survey!

 

survey-stock-photo

The Most Important Part: The Survey

Thank you for your patience. We hope you enjoyed playing the game! Now, the most important part: open this Google Survey in your Internet browser and answer all of the questions there. We won’t ask for anything incredibly personal, so just give us your candid feedback about the game.

Your feedback will change the outcome of the final game. Thanks for taking part in our beta test!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

If you have any other questions about Where Shadows Slumber, feel free to contact us! You can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.