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HARRY IS MOVING!

Harry is moving!
These animations were done a fair while ago. Long enough that the program I was using told me if I saved the files they would no longer be compatible with an older version. This was an indicator that I hadn't visited the files in some time. It's hard to time manage when you have to play multiple roles in making a video game. I think I've spend so much energy working on the environment and versioning control that the animation role was neglected. I've had these loops on the back burner for a while but now I can't wait to take these into Unity and get Harry moving!

I have yet to add some kicks and some uppercut loops, but they will come in future posts.

Note: The windmill move is a secret move that may or may not exist in the game. Also I just felt like making Harry's arms flail around. Awesome stuff.

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WORLDS APART


We have been hard at work on Forest of Suns for a while now, so it might come as a shock to some of you that we (Luke Rion and myself) don't live in the same city. We don't even live in the same state. We have  been toiling away separated between Melbourne and Brisbane right from the games conception, only meeting in person once or twice throughout the entire process.

As you might expect, this has thrown us a few curve balls from time to time and it's made otherwise trivial problems seem insurmountable. It's the small things you miss the most, like being able to sketch a visual concept in 15 seconds instead of describing it for 15 minutes or being able to point to something on the screen with your finger or being able to deeply suck in the musk of each others beards...

We have figured out a few workarounds for most of our limitations though. Basically, we have found that if you are going to work with someone remotely, the only word you need to know is Google. They have a whole bunch of apps for your PC and phones that you have probably never heard of and they can do things that you wouldn't necessarily expect.


Firstly there is
Google hangouts (shit name!), which is pretty similar to Skype, but all of its features are free and it lets you share your desktop, allowing the other person to see exactly what you're looking at. Then there is Google docs and drawings, these let you create word or picture documents that you can both edit together in real time. Finally, there is Google drive which not only offers a very generous 15GB of cloud storage for free, it also lets you create and share folders so you can have the exact same files on both of your computers, these will also automatically update if either of you have made any changes.

So, if you are planning on working with someone online, don't cock around like we had to, just go to Google. You'll save yourself a whole bunch of time and mood swings.

FEZ!

Fez is fantastic! Yeah I know it's a bit late, but it's true. Announced by creator Phil Fish, founder of the Polytron Corporation, in 2007 and finally making it to the xbox five years later. I was super  excited to play this little gem of indie development. But, like most things worth waiting for, their was a catch, a catch involving a a bucket of money demanded by Microsoft and Fish throwing in the towel. If you want to see the arduous and painful development process Fish went through creating this game you can check out, 'Indie Game: The Movie'.

The Indie Rights Tangent
Imagine that  a small indie company makes a game, and after an extremely long and arduous development period they finally publish to a well established platform, paying a hefty fee. An error occurs, which isn't uncommon, and the indie company  needs to update the game to fix the problem. So the small indie company needs to fix the problem, but wait, a road block occurs in the form of the publisher asking for almost the same amount to fix a simple bug as to publish the game, we're talking tens of thousands of dollars.

I won't go in too deep, but until earlier this year, xbox had been reluctant to allow developers to update their games and to fix bugs, without paying exorbitant re-certification fees. This was until the next-gen wars began and PlayStation proved they were a head of the game, not through fancy new camera technology or by having a television in your console, but through better rights for indie publishers. Who would have thought! Ha ha ha !  Finally after Microsoft changed their mind, trying to make up for lost ground, Fez was updated and all was well for consumers to...consume.



Back to Fez
Fez is retro, employing the pixel pushing art style, which is quite common and an obvious throwback to the heyday of gaming but there's a lot more to it than just an aesthetic homage. It goes back to basics, and uses the best of what Shigeru Miyamoto implemented when designing the original Zelda, a focus on gameplay within compelling environments. Sure Fez's world is built from repeated and re-occuring elements, you quite often see the same ledges and vines, but it manages to change enough to convince you that each environment is a new world. Both the dynamic lighting and simple yet evocative soundtrack support this.

The East
Maybe what I'm getting at is diversity in a game is really important. With such a limited palette Fez manages to make the game about the journey and not so much about the destination. A common plot device employed in Japanese manga is the use of multiple frames to describe environment not necessarily sequentially to provide logic, but more to evoke a sense of the environment and suggest a mood. In Scott McCloud's 'Understanding Comics' these frames set the mood through 'Aspect to Aspect' of an environment. Miyamoto has always managed to set the mood of a game really well, the environment becomes as important as what your goal is. You could stand in a field and enjoy the tall grass in Zelda and you did actually feel like you we're in a cave in 'Super Mario Bros' jumping for coins. Japan has always encouraged the type of game play that heavily uses environment, and let's face it most of the games in western society emanated from Japan.



Fez somehow brings this feeling back, it makes you feel like the setting was just as important as the little guy wearing the cap, that interacting with these landscapes would tell you of his adventure as much as the narrative. The primary mechanics of the game serve this concept really well and make the environment of key importance. In a way it makes the game feel intricate and whimsical yet not too overwhelming. What Fez achieves is something that western culture has managed to ignore in the last fifteen years of developing games.

Painting a Picture
There was a line when western values started to take over in console games, maybe around the time of the first xbox, and the environments became of second importance, serving the primary goal orientated narrative. Get here, blow up a base, take out theses enemies, and so on. You would go through an environment to get somewhere, but not to actually absorb it. This probably reflected western culture, a long list of things to do.

Now I'm not saying that Japanese games don't also have objectives or suffer from trashy narratives or poorly created environments. Resident Evil is a great example of this, at it's best , it's Japanese B- grade horror slop that manages to be more entertaining because of horrendous dialogue and outlandish zombie action than anything else. But coming back to the main point,  I do think culturally and traditionally the ethos behind Japanese games is quite different, and adapting these values is a feat of it's own. It takes a degree of subtlety and introspective analysis to understand the merits that are hidden within the classic titles that we grew up with. And this is especially true when your  going for the jugular in game creation and in my opinion managing to pull off a "Miyamoto", yep I coined it.

Fish has managed to pull off a "Miyamoto" a game in which it makes you feel like a kid again and that there is a hidden magic between the pixels waiting to be discovered. Their is no surprise that Fez was born in Canada it seems to be the neutral ground in the battle of West Vs. East  game values and a place that somehow miraculously is a  haven for game developers.

Fez has split my brain open and drenched it in child like wonder, that's a tricky thing to do to anyone. Fish, You have made a timeless classic. Well done! Kudos!

Update: I just read the Phil Fish is giving up on making games!, I think I might write him a letter...

THE INDIE GAME RENAISSANCE


After the widespread success of BraidLimboFezSword & SorceryMinecraft, (etc. etc. etc.) and the fact that there are over 10,000 games in development listed on sites like Indie DB, It has become obvious to most observers that we are in the middle of some sort of indie game renaissance.
   
There are a number of converging causes for this bloom in the indie games scene, but a large part of it has been the change in the audiences perception of games. Playing games used to be the social equivalent of masturbation. It was deemed to be exclusively performed by sweaty, teenage nerds and you would rarely reveal your obsession with it unless you were absolutely certain you were talking to someone with the same affliction. 

As misguided as these social conventions were, it was great for the games. Developers barely understood the meaning of the words 'focus group' or 'target market' and as a result they were largely focused on making games. Production costs were low and the user base was fanatical so developers could afford to take risks.That all changed with the advent of Sony's PlayStation though.

Sony positioned their console as something modern, something mature and most dangerously, something cool. Needless to say it was explosively successful. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox continued the invasion into the territory of social acceptance and any doubt of their success was put to rest with the most recent generation of consoles.

Games are such big business now that Grand Theft Auto IV famously broke the Guinness world record for "Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours". It made roughly $310 million on its first day. There is so much money to be made from mainstream games that big developers have staved away from smaller projects.

This has happened at a peculiar juncture in the industry's history. Right now, making small scale games has never been cheaper, the audience has never been larger and (thanks to digital distribution) publishing has never been easier. It just so happens that most of the 'nerds' who grew up loving video games are in their late 20's and early 30's as well (about the same age Miyamoto was when he was making Super Mario Bros.)

It doesn't seem too crazy to envisage that we are about to be thrown the Sofia Coppolas, the Tarrantinos, the Wes Andersons and Coen brothers of the gaming industry.

TUTORIAL: RESOLUTION ART STYLE

Right back at the beginning, when we originally conceiving our game, we came to the conclusion that whatever we had to learn to get the game going, we would share. So in the coming months I will be sharing some more technical based posts, ones that may give some developers a clue of how we've gone about making the game, in the hopes of making our experiences useful to other indie game developers. 

Approaching this game as an artist has been  a challenging experience and the game development aspect has been a worthy adversary. The biggest challenge I've had is balancing the art production with the technical process of importing the artwork into Unity ready for game making.

Coming from a print background and understanding resolution has made me fanatical about getting the resolution right for the ever expanding array of screen sizes, especially apple's "Retina" display, a fiasco in it's own right. But finally after many months of importing many different sized images into unity and running a myriad of tests, I think it's finally coming together.

Below is an image of how diagrammatically, I am implementing the background art style workflow. The big key factors have been separating resolution based art into different folders and the amazing 2D toolkit plugin for unity.


Illustrator
The essential workflow which is working currently starts with Illustrator. All the environments and elements are built in illustrator as objects. Illustrator is excellent  for creating perfect geometry, and considering the whole program is vector based, it's completely resolution independent.The assets (by assets I mean artwork)  are  created in grey scale to suggest volume and space. These grey scale objects create a  clear indication of the environment in which the character will work through without the necessity of details. Essentially the  basic building blocks of the game. Illustrator allows the user to export at any resolution so it's great for setting up separate resolutions for different devices. The diagram explains this a bit better.

Photoshop
After the low resolution  greyscale art style is set up and working, the assets are taken into photoshop and colour and texture are added.The layers that are exported from illustrator will stay intact  in photoshop allowing me to add the textures to certain parts of the broken up element. This is where all the glitter and glue comes in to really make the art style pop. Once this is done. The assets are saved at separate resolutions starting at the highest 300dpi and then compressed at 150dpi and 72 dpi. Once done the art style is ready for unity.

Tune in to the next post where I'll explain how the 2D toolkit plugin references the two separate resolution folders....

JUST WHAT THE HELL IS FOREST OF SUNS?

So we've been talking about our game for the past 18 months, without really shedding much light on the specifics of what it actually is. It might be time we made things a little clearer.

Fundamentally Forest of Suns is an adventure game spliced with a side scrolling beet 'em up. We've described it before as being a bit of a mix between Streets of Rage and Limbo. But that doesn't really sum it up completely. The game is not focused on punching people in the face so much or rubbing two random items together in order to solve puzzles.

Limbo

The thing we are really focused on is conveying the narrative in an impressionistic and delicate manner. There will be no text, there will be no film clips. Your understanding of the narrative will come entirely through the experiences you have during the game. That does put a lot of onus on the player to be vigilant in interpreting each event, setting and audio queue but we hope that it will achieve a deeper, more personal connection and experience.

Streets of Rage 2

A nice bite sized synopsis of what the narrative actually is in Forest of Suns would be this; You play the role of Harry, a middle aged man in the midst of a mental crisis. He has spent his entire life suppressing the trauma of his childhood, but after a lifetime avoiding his issues they have finally caught up with him.

I doubt that what I've just talked about would have pulled your image of the game into a particularly tight focus, but that's about as much as I can give away at the moment without spoiling anything.

Stay tuned though.

HARRY NOW LIVES IN GREYSCALE

Some working screen shots of Harry standing with in the level.  The level is currently in development hence the greyscale approach. The greyscale elements suggest volume and depth without necessarily being completely in colour. The texture and colour magic comes a bit later. In future posts I will go into greater detail but for now, Harry now lives in greyscale.



FOREST OF SUNS COMING TO OUYA

We've decided on a home for Forest of Suns! We are developing it primarily for the new 'indie-centric' console, the OUYA.


If you are not familiar with OUYA, it's a new crowdfunded gaming console that's about as powerful as a recent smart phone and it only costs $99. 

The major attraction for us is how extremely friendly it is to the little guys. In order to develop for most other consoles we would have to pay thousands for development kits while also getting bled with licencing fees. But with OUYA, the console itself can be used as a developement kit. So we can complete, test and publish our game on a home console for a grand total of a hundred bucks.

The plan, as it stands, is to complete Forest of Suns on the console with the lowest development costs known to man and then port it to other platforms when we're done. Here's hoping that all the other bearded geniuses are thinking the same thing. It'd be nice to see OUYA grow into a fledgling nursery for upstart developers and not a reservoir for the programs of the damned.

THE RELEASE DATE

Over the past couple of months our workflow has started to produce a nice predictable pattern, making it possible for us to gaze into the future with some notion of when we can get off this crazy train ride.

If our calculations are correct (...that is a sizable if), Forest of Suns should be ready to ship June 19th 2014. That's 364 days from today.

So put it in your calendars and start incrementally increasing your perceived state of anticipation with the aim of peaking on June 19th next year. In order to avoid any undue discomfort please refrain from peaking too early.

DISCLAIMER: 

Double Vision Games will not be held responsible for the failed management of any individuals anticipation.

THE SNOW BALL EFFECT


A recent chat with my brother in arms has marked an important time in the production of this momentous project.

Our regular weekly exchange began with me showing the roughed in basic building blocks of visuals. After hitting the ball into his court Luke responded by sending me a rough version of the first level's soundtrack. Listening through the melody only once I was convinced he had managed to encapsulate a mood that contrasted, but also complemented everything I had produced visually.


Harry in wireframe land, the green box represents the screen size. 

We both quickly realised we had reached a stage in the production that was like we had just finally pushed the world's biggest snow ball to the top of the hill.  Our once weekly exchanges of thoughts and written concepts have slowly but surely evolved now into an exchange of semi-tangible visual and audio elements. Definitely an astonishing time in the production of the video game.

But staggering up to the peak of this proverbial hill has taken us a long year and a half of regular online exchanges of thoughts, ideas, sketches and written notes. Only now at this point in the production do we feel like the snow ball has reached the peak. That the project has become self-informative, in that by working on the game is inspiring us to work on the game.

The snow ball sits precariously on the peak. I think it's time we gave it a push!

WHAT'S IN A NAME?


We have been struggling for the longest time to agree on a title for the game, but names are hard!

It had to be evocative and capture the essence of the game. We also wanted it to give a tiny insight into the narrative, but nothing too obvious. We think we might have got it.

Without further ado, here it is:



So whaddaya think? Did you get it? Nah, probably not. Don't worry though, it'll all make sense in the end.

!!!VILLAINS!!!

Some more works in progress of some villains we have been conceptualising.


The concept for the game's villains have changed dramatically over the course of pre- production and will probably change again before the game reaches the final stage ( ha! get it). I'm  really trying to push a lot of variety into the character designs.

Right now we are trying to determine what the level of difference in the enemies in our game should be. We know it's going to be a fine balance between having amazing character designs and enough variants of the same designs to create a whole new look, with out looking like we just stuck together the same character in a different way. This is where we take a lesson from Streets of Rage.


Streets of Rage enemies, same guy different coloured pants. 

The old school Streets of Rage formula of changing the enemies shirt, pants, colour is an interesting theory. It's the simplest and most visual way of determining a difference in difficulty of an enemy, without having to completely design a new character. It's also interesting to think that just by the colour alone the enemy suggests a different capacity, for example they may do the exactly the same moves but they take more damage. An easy solution for designers. But changing these character's colours was also probably subject to the nature of the limited graphics. In Streets of Rage, they make the character  difference quite obvious probably to combat the game's rendering process, which would output the characters and environment in the same method. Unlike the luxuries of today where you can just add some environmental fog or some particle effects to fade the background out and make the characters pop forward.

I think there is a lot to be said of how technology can dramatically  dictate the visual aesthetics of games. It's why the 8 bit look has become an iconic part of 80's culture and throw backs to the 8 bit look are easily associated with that time. It's a mass cultural influence, you can't deny it!

STILL ALIVE, STILL GOING.


Yes it's been a while, but we still are kickin'. We slammed the script after many revisions and have done a lot of unity tests, and now, we can finally cross pre-production off our ever growing list of what needs to be done. A new era has begun! an era of er...production.

A huge hurdle and one that hasn't been completely resolved yet has been versioning control. Our initial experiments were done directly in unity but due to the heavy handed visual nature of the game, it made it near impossible to collaborate over the web on the same project. Enter google documents/drive.


A Simplified Version of Level 1 in a Google Doc.


We decided after much deliberation and accidentally saving over each other versions of unity projects, that we needed a better method to developing each level.  We went with a symbolic approach, this way we would keep  the documents light and easily to manoeuvre through. We are now building each level in a google image document. I love it for many reasons. It's vector based so it's extremely light weight; we are both able to draw simultaneously in  the same document, which is too cool; we can add any necessary level comments and notes and link them to objects we've drawn; and even do google searches with in the document for photo references. It has increased our productivity ten fold. Awesome stuff. Yo can see an idea of the first level above.

From here our plan is to export the file into Unity and start building over the top of the level sketch. The next impending question  is how do we collaborate in an effective manner in Unity. Stay Tuned...

ANALOGUE MASTERING



I have spent the past week organising the mastering for 'Climbing out of trees'. I had spent the previous month before that trying to teach myself how to do the mastering.

Never do that, ever.

That sent me into a weird, introspective place where I formed abusive, dysfunctional relationships with digital plug-ins and emulated compressors.  I was demanding more from them than they were capable of and in return they were intentionally sabotaging my progress to spite me. On top of that, I'm convinced that my studio monitors were lying to me throughout the process.

After about two dozen aborted attempts and at least as many grown-man tantrums I conceded and got in contact with Cparis. They specialise in analogue mastering and use some particularly tasty equipment, the crown jewel of which being their 1959 Fairchild 670 limiter. That might not mean much to most of you, but let me explain. Fairchilds are hand wired, all valve and each one is a little box of pop music history. Legend has it that the first batch of Fairchilds were built in Les Paul's basement, Emmerick used one pretty extensively while working with The Beatles and nowadays they fetch about $30,000 a pop. 

The benefit of all this is that it simply makes things sound good. You can listen to the final mastered version of the song on the media player at the top of this post or you can download it for free here. (For those of you who already downloaded the original version it is advisable to upgrade to this new mastered version).


Inside a Fairchild 670

LEVEL CONCEPT REVISON


I had an epiphany one night, looking at the concept level for our game, I had noticed I had been constructing a game based upon the tools available at hand. Like I had envisioned visuals based upon what I had seen in other games. It was as if I was making a homage to other games but it was not in any way personal.

 I think at some point we are all heavily influenced by the inspiration around us, and that we forget to put our own experiences into what we do. I've noticed it exists in a lot of industries, like when film idea's are  based upon premises that people know and have seen in other movies before. The shots become typical, the dialogue sluggish and the whole experience becomes overly predictable. Ideas that are self referential, in a manner of speaking. But when artwork in any medium comes along that uses personal experience and a mix of an extroverted and an expeditionary method of creation and embodies a truly reflective process it becomes a breath of fresh air to an often overly crowded landscape.

In short I felt a strong sense of duty to myself and past experience, to push these concepts into the game and as a result I produced a new approach to the aesthetic. A more textural and emotive environment, one that relates to the events that our main protagonist Harry experiences throughout the narrative.


HARRY AND ENEMEY TURNAROUND

The initial method for creating the characters was to produce clean line animations which would contrast with the painterly background of the game. The idea behind this process is to allow the user to identify where the character is on screen a lot easier, preventing the action being lost in the background assets. A personal design goal in this game is to build aesthetics that are textural and detailed that really project a mood, yet don't compete with the on screen action.

The two turnarounds are of the main protagonist, Harry and an enemy that will be used in the prototype level. These turnarounds will be used to produce either 3d models or used as a guide line for 2d animation.

 The enemy is definitely rocking' the eighties fashion...all the way!



CONCEPT LEVEL DEVELOPMENT

Here is the work up of the concept for the first level of the game. The process was completely digital and an interesting adventure, I'll let the images speak for themselves. From here on in we've decided on building a small test level in unity to inform us of the best way to design the level. It will also help us design the general mechanics and interactivity that we will use through out the game.








DESTROY SUBRUBIA


 Ok, the level design for the game is slowly progressing, the idea behind the level design was to give a strong sense of environment  in which the characters truly meld into the background. A visual style that I wanted to push into this game was organic painterly backdrops, lush with colour and detail, like something out of Studio Ghibli film.

But before all of that I hit the drawing board and produced some key frame ideas for the look of some of the levels. The first was inspired by the concept of the protagonist 'Harry' traveling through a destroyed suburbia, in short dilapidated buildings, cracked roads and a bucket load of enemies. The second was what we dubbed the "Purgatory" level a short level in which Harry gets warped into by an enemy and must find his way out.

The frames on the  sketches are suggested 'screen zooms' that will change depending on the number of enemies on screen, but more on that later.

Check it out. More to come soon.


CLIMBING OUT OF TREES


Climbing out of trees is the overture for the game. The brief for the track was to set the mood and atmosphere for the narrative, art style and soundtrack . So it had to be a bit dark and dreamlike with a vintage flavour. Basically it's a handful of crunchy, retro croutons floating in a bowl of surrealist gazpacho... if that makes it any clearer. The track will be played over the opening credits and during the start screen and demo reel whenever you start the game up.

To try and give the soundtrack a little bit of a retro edge I went and dug up some old drum samples, something similar to what you'd find on an 80's digital synth. I kept the drums simple, only using 5 different samples throughout  and the only effects I applied were a bit of distortion through an emulated bass amp and a bit of EQ'ing.

The most important influence in the vintage styling on the track is the synthesizer work. I have been exclusively using Moog's Animoog synth app for the iPad, which is five shades of radical. The app only cost 99c (which is the total cost of the soundtrack budget so far). Almost all of what you hear on the track was done using the Animoog app, with the exceptions being the drums and the lead part during the crescendo.


Trying to make the track dark and ethereal was a little trickier. I fiddled around with dozens of combinations of synth tambres and modes for the scales before I stumbled onto one of the synths presets that suited the mood perfectly. The other thing I did to make it a bit more spacey was to stew anything important in the mix in about eight litres of reverb.

The aforementioned lead part for the crescendo was a little bit of a fortunate accident. I write most of my lead sections by recording myself singing them first and then transposing them for an instrument later. In order to try and make the place-holder recording of my voice fit into the mix I applied a few extreme effects (distortion and reverb). Once I had it sitting nice and snugly it was pretty obvious that I wasn't going to be able to replace it with anything. And so we are left with the glorious 'angry midget wailing on a mountain top' effect that has made its way into the final cut.

If you would like to download the track to listen to later click here.

WELCOME TO...



Imagine that Streets of Rage is a man, and that Limbo is a woman.

By chance she stumbled into his regular smoke-stained, whiskey-drenched, gravity well. He could tell her type from a mile away, the wet slap of her Birkenstocks gave her away long before she sat down. Her head was still spinning after simultaneously flunking out of art school and losing her graveyard shift as a projectionist at the community cinema in the same afternoon. He wasn't sure of what had just happened to this girl, but he did know that she probably hadn't come down here to get pestered by some washed-up drunk. They drank at opposite ends of the bar, consciously ignoring one another. When last drinks were called they both grimaced through their last rounds and clambered for the door. Her comfort sandals slipped in a puddle of rain, his instincts grasped her before she toppled. His burly simplicity was so reassuring. Her fragile complexity so intoxicating. By the time the door had flung closed behind them they were already writhing on top of each other in the drowning stairwell.

And lo, the seed of our yet to be titled game was planted!

For the past few months we have been laboriously fleshing out the narrative and play mechanics of our first game. We are also getting into the finer detail of the art style and sound design.Over the coming months we will be making regular updates to the blog with new concept art and music accompanied by detailed insights into the processes we used to make them. 

This project is going to have a huge emphasis on aesthetics, which we are really hoping will make people fall in love with the atmosphere and setting as much as the plot and play style. Our aim with this blog is to try to give you as much of an uncensored look into the development process as possible. Basically you will be seeing the art style and game mechanics develop as we do.

We would be pretty psyched to hear from you throughout the process, so post any comments or feedback you have right here on the blog or our facebook page. You can also email us directly at contact@doublevisiongames.org.

We'll have some more updates for you soon.