Episodes 1-4 of The Silver Lining, along with Volume 1 of the Soundtrack, have been moved and are now available in our online store: http://store.postudios.com/collections/all
The extras previously available in the Fan Club–2011 Calendar, Concept Art–are now packaged with the download of Episode 1-4. All of these items are still available entirely for free, and this relocation fixes a persistent circular logging in issue that many fans experienced previously. Head on over to download and enjoy!
This time we are looking at how all the wonderful models and sets are created. Creating all the models is time consuming as they go through many, many drafts before we find the one we look feels like the one the script is describing.
In Episode 5 script, there aren’t any direct words telling us how the character looks however we do have their personality based on their name as well as how they speak and what actions they take during the game itself. From this we are able to do a base sketch. Let’s look at the character Rosella.
As you can see this is a rough sketch of how we think the character should look like. Based on what we know about the character of Rosella we have dressed her elaborately for her wedding. The proportions are off but that is not important at this stage of the character design, all the artist is concerned about is getting the general vision of the character down. Once the general idea is agreed upon, the next stage of design can begin.
In this picture, Rosella has been fleshed out more. The lines are cleaner and the designs in her dress are defined to the point where they could be created to the next stage. Also included are different views of how the character would look. You have the front view, side, and back. All three views are important in a 3D game because you will be able to see the character from all angles. Each angle must be as clean as the others. The close up on her face is required because again of how the camera moves in TSL. These images need to be as detailed as they can be because after this step they go to a Character Artist who will build the character in Maya. If details are not added in at this stage, the Character Artist who works off the design will run into issues that could end up having them scrap the character they have been working on for several days, and those days would be considered lost and mile stones will not be made pushing the entire project back.
In regards to TSL, the torque engine limited how much we really could do with the character in terms of poly counts (how smooth they look). Now that we have switched engines the world of characters and sets have opened up to us greatly and our characters have gone from blocky to smooth geometry. In TSL this process takes us several weeks to complete as most of the team is part time but Noelle, Ting and Tom are able to create amazing things from a simple 2D image and create a 3D character that walks on our screen. To show you how amazing TSL is going to look, here are before and after images of Rosella, the first peek into the art of Episode 5!
This past Sunday, we wrapped up the recordings for our voice actress for Erica Reed, the extremely talented Raleigh Holmes. After four episodes, I felt a little sad as we wrapped the last few lines of the episode and called it done. For us, we still have to walk this road until we release the episode to all of you, but for Raleigh, today was her last day on the job.
One of the most satisficing aspects about game development for me as a designer is the joy of hearing the lines I wrote take life in someone as talented as Raleigh. Extremely professional and completely dedicated to making things as perfect as possible, in this episode Raleigh just flew through her lines. And although Michael Fortunato, our voice over director, plays a big role in such a great performance, Raleigh was so comfortable by now that you could feel her transformation: She has actually become Erica!
And to bring a character to life through voice overs is not an easy task. Actors normally always have the energy of the stage, the set, or other actors to bounce off from. In voice-overs, they are alone with their microphones in a little booth, and everything happens in their imagination. So kudos to them!
We recorded in two sessions. On Saturday we went through the first two acts and part of act three. We skipped all the sections that would be hard on Raleigh’s voice, such as some of the skin-crawling screams you’ve heard from her in previous episodes, or sections that were so action-oriented they would put a strain on her voice. We saved all of that for Sunday, towards the end of the recording, in case they made Raleigh lose her voice. We have to be very careful in general, as Raleigh’s other passion is singing and she has an upcoming gig at Jane Jensen’s Open House event, so we definitely didn’t want Raleigh to hurt her voice for that! So we took it slow, while Raleigh took sips of her tea to help her keep her voice in check.
Katie joined us as always to make sure Raleigh kept her Bostonian flare. I normally just keep quiet, letting Michael do the direction and sometimes taking over for him when baby Sebastian, his son, needed attention. In those occasions, I would normally ask Raleigh to go to a safer place (such as the inventory lines) because I really prefer Michael to work with Raleigh to get Erica down to the great character we all love. He has such an easy way to get people to read the lines the way they are meant to be written, that I feel nervous that by taking over the more dramatic sessions, we wouldn’t get the best of the best. In those cases, I normally keep to myself unless I feel really strong about how to read a line, or when I need to come in to explain the motivation behind a particular session, behind the character’s thoughts or history that helps the actor understand the characters better. And, sometimes, also as lines are being read, sometimes they don’t feel quite natural once we hear them aloud, so Katie and I are normally there to go over the script and try new lines that feel better for the character or the situation.
To round out the team of people behind the recordings, we had our own Austin Haynes under a different hat, on the technical side, running the recordings in L.A. with Raleigh, and setting everything up so that the rest of us can listen in from our locations in Boston, Montreal, and California. Technology allows us to do this the same way as if we were in the studio with them! Austin especially takes care of things so that the volume doesn’t peak and distort as Raleigh screams or is not too low when she’s whispering, making sure that everything is balanced.
In film, there’s a term called “The Martini Shot” which refers to the last shot done before it’s a wrap . I called it as Raleigh was doing her final screams. I hope (and beg) that we can share many more of those Martini Shots with Raleigh in many productions to come! Talents like hers are rare, and we are very lucky to have her helping make of Erica such a compelling character. Thank you, Raleigh!
We’ve got great news for adventure fans (I love when I get to say that!): Phoenix Online is officially working with Mad Orange on the the English language version of their game, Face Noir!
Already available in Germany, Face Noir is a fantastic, Raymond Chandler-inspired noir story set in New York 1929: the middle of the Great Depression.
The dark side of Destiny
The Black Thursday. That is how the press rechristened that October 24th, 1929, a day in which U.S. began to face the darkest years of his history: the Great Depression years. All the great values professed by this nation vanished within a couple of months, the American dream was dead and trust in God begun to shake.
Few years had been enough for people to show their real side: false, mean and, above all, open to bribery. But the one thing I would have never imagined is how far corruption had gone; so far that somebody would actually try to bribe God.
And now here I am, a gun barrel pointed at me, a corpse on my conscience, and a young lady to protect. How could this ever happen? How is it possible that everything has stemmed from a series of coincidences?
Do you believe in Destiny? …I don`t.
Not only will we be working with Mad Orange to add English voice acting to the game, but there also a number of improvements planned for the summer release. You can read up on these and more in Adventure Gamers recent hands-on, in-depth preview of the game, and stay tuned to our site for more updates!
Chances are good you’ve had a conversation before. But have you ever thought about all the things you do during a conversation? You look at the other person, or sometimes look away. You smile, or nod, or frown and shake your head. Your brow narrows in slightly different ways when you’re upset or confused. You shift your weight. You blink. You react to the what the other person is saying, and they react to you. And then you talk, and you do all those things in addition to speaking. And all the while, the other person is doing those same things, but in their own way.
More complicated than you thought, isn’t it?
While animators make the movements that are seen in the game, putting those animations into the game falls to the Cinematic Artists. These folks have the distinguished, nit-picky, detailed-oriented task of putting together every sequence in the game. What’s a sequence? Everything! Any reaction the game makes beyond simple walking requires a sequence: talking to another character, looking at a specific item, picking something up, using an item, and so forth.
Let’s take a closer look at a brief sequence from Episode 1:
From changing camera angles to Erica crossing her arms to even the timing of Sully walking over in the background, every action, gesture, and audio line is pieced together by a cinematic artist. When John asks, “Do you want to good cop-bad cop him?”, he shrugs his shoulders, his eyebrows raise to indicate he’s asking a question. Erica says no, and shakes her head; at the same time, we see Sully approaching in the background. When we next see Sully, his arms are crossed, and Erica’s have shifted to being on her hips. Later, when Sully is talking about John, he points at him.
All of the gestures are a part of the body language of a conversation, and each one is specifically chosen and timed to make the conversation feel close to real life. Even the blinks and eye movements are specific! While these are most often assigned a routine animation that will have the character blink automatically, the place they’re looking is an assigned value. Notice how John looks in Sully’s direction when he joins the conversation–that shift in where John is looking and when is something the cinematic artist tells the game to do.
The camera angles, too, change to indicate who’s speaking, to show their reactions, to keep the pace of the conversation interesting, rather than relying on a single group camera for the entire time. These changing camera angles mimic the kind of camera work you would see in a movie — that’s why it’s called a “cinematic sequence.”
Just like we do for the animations, we have meetings where we review the cinematics each week, going through each and every sequence in the game, offering feedback to revise and perfect each of them. If I know that during a particular line of dialogue, Erica is meant to be acting aggressively, I’ll give that note to the cinematic artist so they can reflect this in her body language. If another person is hiding information, we may ask for them to be reluctant to make eye connect, something people often do in real life when they’re lying. Being a cinematic artist requires a LOT of attention to detail and putting up with the nit-pickiest feedback from the director you can imagine! And the end result adds to feeling of a character’s depth by giving what was a 3D model personality and physical character traits and quirks that the player recognizes and takes in just like they do in real-life conversations.
And sometimes, we find fun glitches like this!
I’m supposed to be writing about how much I’ve learned from Jane Jensen’s design, which was my original goal, or about the actual production of Moebius as a game. But instead, as I started writing, I got pulled into telling you a bit about what I particularly think of Moebius. I can’t help it, I’m the Producer of Moebius, yes, but more than that, I’m Jane Jensen’s number one fan.
Obviously I cannot reveal much, and I feel that if Jane was reading what I’m writing, she’d give me the killer glare. But let me try…
“Time and Time Again” is the slogan for Moebius, the next masterpiece from the “Queen of Adventure” herself Jane Jensen. Moebius is a metaphysical adventure that finds Malachi Rector in the middle of a mystery surrounded by the “Moebius Theory” which suggests patterns that repeat throughout history.
For those who missed a little bit of the edgy Jane Jensen from Gray Matter, you can definitely welcome her back. But don’t expect Gabriel Knight Redux, Moebius has its own distinct voice, and the character of Malachi is fascinating, analytical, incredibly smart, and can sometimes come off as the biggest asshole you’ve met–but you can’t stop loving every bit of him. It reminds me a lot of Sherlock Holmes from the BBC series, a character that I also adore.
At the same time, whereas Gabriel Knight was very edgy and spooky, I would categorize Moebius as more action oriented and high tech. Now, don’t fear, ye old adventure fans, I’m not talking about action sequences that will test your reflects, I’m talking about punching and kicking and relentless fighting sprinkled here and there in the game through beautifully rendered cutscenes or inserted as the background scenery for some provocative choice-making puzzles. That, together with the very classy, Armani suit-James Bond look of Malachi, his knack for high end toys, and the attention to current economical tendencies in the story, makes the game really feel like a poignant ultra-modern masterpiece.
Malachi travels around the world to many different locations, giving the story a grand and cosmopolitan atmosphere, a dream of globe-hopping travel bunnies like me. From the classical European locales to the modern streets of New York City and even exotic Egypt, Malachi is always on the move. He’s an antiques dealer, and what makes him such a good one is his acute sense to—well, let’s just say that it makes for great gameplay moments in the game.
With Moebius: Empire Rising we find a Jane doing what she does best: Taking historical facts and blending them into fiction in a way where you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. The thing is that the historical facts, in this case, are the center of attention. So with a stage set for one of her best qualities to be the centric element of the story, I’ll let your imagination fly as to how good this one is going to be. In the meanwhile, I’d recommend checking out her novel Dante’s Equation to entertain yourself while you wait.
The way a person moves, stands, and talks is part of who they are. It can be an essential part of making observations and judgments about their character–in fact, doing just that is a trick actors have been using for centuries! That’s why animations are such an important part of a video game like Cognition.
Not being an animator myself, when I stepped into directing Episode 2, I was surprised by how much I had never thought about in terms of animations. Every single unique movement that a character makes has to be animated through several stages of revision. Picking up a pen might seem like a simple thing, but it’s not. You’ve probably never thought about just how many parts of your body move when you pick up that pen: your head turns over and down to look at it. Your arm reaches out, and chances are your back bends towards it as well. Your fingers–all five of them, don’t forget–move as you open your hand and then close them around the object. You’ve got the pen! Congratulations. Now move all those parts of your body back into exactly the same position they were in before, plus one pen poised for use.
Oh, did you want to use that pen, too? Well, roll up your sleeves, folks, we’re gonna be here for a while!
Being a part of the daily animation meetings, I quickly appreciated just how much detailed work our animators do, and I also saw as they got better and better over time. Someone might forget to animate the spine for one animation, but the next time around they’d remember to incorporate that into their work. I also learned about the stages of an animation as it progresses. Below are two of the earlier passes on a much more complex action, where Erica jumps out of the way of a speeding car, done by animator Dan Long:
This video shows the blocking pass–in this early stage, the animation is “blocked out” into its main, basic components.
Here you can see a more polished version of the animation. After blocking, details are added into the animation. From here, the animation is polished until it’s approved as final, and then added to the game. Where we may discover it’s so final after all and send it back for more polish!
These are only 2 passes, but it gives you an idea for how much detail and work goes into animations. After sitting in on these meetings for just a few weeks, I had a new appreciation for custom animations–even in older games! Next time you’re playing a game, take a moment to think about all the tiny moving details of every character, every aspect of the game, and just how much work someone put into an animation that lasts only a few seconds on your screen!
We recently got this question over at the Cognition Steam Community Group: ”Where do you get your ideas?” And that’s as good a place as any to start talking about the process of developing a game! With due warning, there are some very mild spoilers for Episode 2 in here–nothing the trails don’t already hint at or say, and nothing you don’t find in the first chunk of gameplay. I wouldn’t ever spoil the big moments!
For Cognition, when we started creating the plot, we had some gorgeous art from Romano Molenaar to go from, and we knew that Erica Reed was in law enforcement. Apart from that, however, the world was our oyster. The artwork has a fantastic noir feeling to it from the get-go, and as soon as we saw it, Cesar and I were primed for a creepy, moody thriller. And admittedly, after nine years of working The Silver Lining, we were overdue for something more “adult”!
We started by refining what we had–we went with her as an FBI Agent instead of a cop, since we figured that was done less often. We set the game in Boston instead of New York, for another change of pace from the usual (and t my delight, being a Boston native). Then we began throwing out ideas that quickly became refined: she was hunting down a serial killer–or maybe several. What kind of pattern would there be to the kills? What did that say about the killer, what was their motivation, their psychology behind this? Did we want to keep it entirely grounded in reality, or did we want to add a paranormal twist by giving her some kind of ability? An earlier version had a number of killings based on Shakespeare in addition to Erica’s post-cognition ability, but the Shakespeare idea we discarded thanks to some sage advice from Jane to pick one of the two themes and focus in on that.
What kind of person would Erica be? We each had our inspirations for her; you can read about Cesar’s here. Some of my inspirations included characters like Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars. Both strong young women, in very different ways, with strengths, flaws, and events that traumatically change their lives. But something you don’t get to see from either of them, simply due to the nature of TV shows coming and going, is how their lives play out years after the fact, out in the “real world.” Erica is in her early 30s, rather than her teens or early 20s. I wondered how something like her not-quite-controlled power would affect her in the long term.
Once we had the overarching plot laid out, it was time to breakdown the episodes and flesh them out. Each one focuses on a particular serial killer Erica is tracking, and delves into the background of who this killer is, why they do what they do, and from there, we build up the steps she takes to find them, the trail of clues left behind. For the Wise Monkey, I was working with a killer who had focused on the eyes, ears, and tongues of their victims, and I thought about why someone would do something like this. I was also interested in changing things up (again, notice a pattern here?) by having Erica pursue a female serial killer, so I researched what makes female killers different from their male counterparts.
As you can imagine, we did some rather grisly research for this game.
With the main characters (or at least, personalities) settling into place, it’s time to examine what kind of rooms and side characters fit into the story. I’d decided to make the Wise Monkey’s victims people with musical talents in connection with what was being done to them, and with Boston as the setting, the next natural step was to make some connections to Berklee College of Music (and I must emphasize that apart from its existence as a music-focused college, everything else about it is completely fictional in Cognition!). The characters were fleshed out, with their personalities and connections coming from both what felt natural to the plot, and thinking about what kinds of twists I wanted to add both to this story, and to the overarching plot. Sometimes this will include coming up with an idea and dismising it–because it’s not much fun if the solution to all problems is the very first thing you think of!
Then, finally, I focus on the puzzles. Some puzzles emerge in the process of fleshing out everything else, but this is where the nitty gritty details happen. For this episode, we were planning on introducing a new power for Erica, so incorporating that power into a good amount of the puzzles was important; as well as making use of the powers players were already familiar with. What I really like about this is that we can make puzzles that aren’t just about what you see, but you could see–leading people to make connections between objects on screen, in their inventory, and between people they encounter as well. At the same time, Erica’s visions are rarely a solution or a full answer to what’s going on, so it’s a constant task of leaving breadcrumbs to lead the player to the final stages of the Episode.
And that final stage….hoo boy. I won’t spoil that here, but suffice to say I wanted to make it challenging on a number of levels, incorporate a lot of the Cognition-specific gameplay, and really make a memorable final moment for Episode 2.
So that’s the quick overview of the steps of the design process. From one point to the next, the ideas we build on often inspire what comes next, and connections spring to life as you go. It’s an exciting moment whenever I get a flash of inspiration that ties everything together, and I crack open a Word doc or grab a notebook to get it all down. I’ve got about 5 pages of notes at least from a brainstorming session with Cesar during GDC last year, and those are especially fun since we’re an online company, when we’re able to get together in person and dive into the creative process together.
“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does. “
Quote from Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Art must be brave, insightful, creative and bold. It should challenge what you know, what it is. An artists takes it personally. A brush is nothing but a tool, but your dreams is all you need to make your future.
“Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
The day I decided to go into business was because I knew I wanted to make a difference, the day I realized how everything I know can change someone’s day or someone’s life was the day I knew I just had to do this. Then I realized it became a personal goal to make people smile, it didn’t really matter how much I’d have to do or go through, as long as I could feel and see someone smile.
My dream is to be able to do something that matters. To make a difference.
It’s been years, a lot has happened but my heart truly belongs in the indie world. All this amazing talent, all this passion and all this strive needs some direction, needs some guidance, needs part of what I know. Therefore, I can only hope my art can fit in into my dream.
I can only hope my love is enough to measure up to my will.
I am nothing but proud to say that Phoenix Online Studios shares this dream too. Indie Support is no longer a dream now, it is a reality. We are sponsoring and supporting all these amazing talented indies that we manage to reach out in hopes to be able to help and integrate the indie world. It matters, we care and we are doing it.
We are currently sponsoring CBE Software http://www.cbe-software.com/ in their noble quest to fund J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition. They had a very unfortunate situation happen to them (If you are unfamiliar with this please read so here http://www.adventuregamers.com/news/view/23982) and this is the reason why Phoenix Online Studios support is strong with our indie friends, because we know this IndieGogo will make a difference whether they stay in business or their talent disappears from the indie world.
So I would appreciate in behalf of Phoenix and CBE for you to please take 5 minutes of you day and please visit their campaign here http://igg.me/at/julia-enhanced, if all you can do is collaborate with $7 then please do so, if all you can do is just share it on your Twitter/FB then that is also very much appreciated. Anything at this point is welcome and we will be very thankful for that.
Personally, it has been a pleasure helping my dear friend Jan Kavan in this difficult time. He is one of the most talented individuals I have ever met and one of the kindest human beings there is. It’s been an honor to celebrate with him reaching out 20% milestone in less than 24hours, it is the best part of my day so far staying up with him up to 4am talking about what can we do, or just breaking that damn F5 button together (which for the record, we did crash Indiegogo last Sunday! Haha) So thank you Jan, for allowing me to be part of such important part of CBE Software history.
I guess I am very happy to be able to do my art into what I love, and therefore love what I do.
The best way for me to talk about my development experience is to start with beginning, which for me is just a little over a year ago. Talk about the year that changed everything!
I’ve noticed that one of the surest validations that a change in your life is for the best is when your friends and family tell you congratulations for the most unusual things. So for me, when I was laid off from my previous full time job on Friday Febraury 17, 2012, that along with a feeling of relief and excitement made it clear that this was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Everyone I talked to while I waited for my bus home knew better than to say “I’m sorry” or sympathize or tell me I’d find something else soon. They all said the exact same thing: “Oh…well, now you can work full time on what you really want to do!”
I got home and signed onto Skype (where we have our “virtual office”), just in time for our daily Skype meeting to hear another round of congratulations from the team. There were even some jokes that I had Erica’s cognition powers because I’d been having recurring dreams of being laid off and jumping into full time Phoenix Online work! And with that, we dove into our daily updates. And it was so exciting! I’d known these meetings happened daily, but I’d not been able to attend one before now. It was immediately clear how different an experience it was going to be working full time on Cognition versus the part time experience I’d had up until then of only being online and working at night and on the weekends.
I spent that day mostly figuring out what the flow of things was going to be and getting my home office in order now that it was where I was going to be spending my days. Within a week, I had plane tickets to San Francisco purchased and I was arranging press interviews, swag designs, and poster artwork for our booth at GDC Play. And in the first week of March, I took my first ever business trip to attend a convention as an exhibitor. I met our CFO Weldon, and two of our animators (Dan & Tracy) for the first time in person! I saw Cesar and Vitek for the first time since our trip to Jane Jensen’s farm the previous March; it had been years since I’d seen Michael, our voice over director, and Aaron, our lead programmer. It was a thrilling, whirlwind, exhausting experience that I may address in more detail in a later Dev Diary post. But it was the start of finally really feeling like I was a video game developer.