We would like to show you the final design for our intrepid heroes.
Chris has put his low-poly modeling skills to the ultimate test, and produced really amazing 3D assets. He has also polished off all of their animations – we’re now focusing on getting them looking and working spiffily in the engine.
All the scene backgrounds are just about done, which includes integrating each into the game and testing them out.
We have over 70, 8000px backgrounds all featuring meticulous 2D detail! There are a few outstanding that cover the intro scene and finale screen (best left to last), so we’ll tackle them in January.
The NEST are a nano-robotic life form that live in an isolated part of this desolate world. The orbital research station on which they were created, has crashed in the African veld. This warm, dry environment is not the ideal for the replication of the synthetic NEST.
Their advanced technology has allowed them to terraform the grasslands into a cold, sterile tundra that is rapidly expanding.
The NEST are now in direct conflict with their neighbors – and Mark will need to find a subtle or extreme solution to this problem.
We’ve received all of the boxes and flash drives needed to prepare the Kickstarter physical rewards! It’s better to get these things sorted out sooner rather than later. So have a look at them – ready and waiting…
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
― H.L. Mencken
While traveling across our African landscape, Mark and POOCH will encounter enemies who will gladly disembowel them for venturing too close to their territory. When diplomacy fails, Mark must be ready to stand his ground.
We’ve implemented a turn-based combat system into BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION, and have chosen to focus on simple engagement mechanics. We’ll avoid intense stat management and leveling, and rather focus on creating a fun, entertaining experience that ties directly into our lore and world building.
In a place this dangerous you’re often only as good as the friends who surround you. Forging alliances with the denizens of the world is essential to survival – and pivotal to how the story will unfold.
The last two months have flown by rapidly, but we’re excited as ever to bring you an update on the development progress of BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION.
We’ve increased our library of photo-scanned 3D objects (when time permits), and are planning a road trip that will entail the further scanning interesting objects and items to include in our desolate African landscapes.
One of the criticisms received is that our character models don’t match up (quality wise) to the background scenes. We have taken this to heart and I’ve honed my low poly modeling skills to produced awesome looking denizens to populate our world. I learnt many tricks and techniques from working with InXile and the pre-production work for Wasteland 3.
The animation rigs in Desolation are much more complicated (and pretty) than those of CAYNE, with cloth dynamics, moving hair, and specific ‘action points’ on the models, which allow for very cool game-play opportunities. I can’t wait to show you some of the animal creations, but I need to save something for our next update!
We’re trying to create a balance of technology with the sensibilities of a post apocalyptic African world. Creating a game that is clearly post apocalyptic – with a dose of fantasy and the tribalpunk aesthetic – is something that hasn’t been done often, so we’re pushing into new territory daily.
Nic is working on the vertical slice of Desolation. Essentially, this is a small playable area of the game that encompasses all of the enhancements and gameplay features that we want to include in the larger world. Once we’re satisfied that the vertical slice prototype is working we can extrapolate that over the rest of the game.
Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of a game like Beautiful Desolation is the story itself. Setting a story in an existing world can be a challenge, but creating a world at the same time as telling a story is a huge task! We have a specific vision for Desolation – and we now have the freedom to see which ideas work and which don’t. The canvas is wide and there are no real limitations for us to constrain your creativity – this can be both exciting and terrifying.
No matter how much technology we have access to or how pretty we make the game – it all hangs on our story, so we’re taking the time to get this right!
I’m happy (read: relieved!) that we’ve completed the first draft outline – a bare skeleton to hang the flesh and bones of our world on. We also have a ‘world document’ detailing the history of the world, which gets updated simultaneously to the story document. Sounds cool, right? But obviously takes up those extra resources.
But we definitely think it’s crucial to create believable characters who’ve shared experiences in the world, much like history’s explorers.
It will also provide our writers with points of reference for the characters and aid them in creating the individual histories of our NPCs.
We had a super trip to the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco last month.
It was great to be surrounded by developers, and listen to interesting talks – it got the creative juices flowing!
After recovering from jet lag, we’re (once again) chained to our desks.
Here is a brief look at one of the races in Beautiful Desolation. We’ve kept this spoiler free!
The Fley are an advanced people – the pinnacle of technological development in this apocalyptic region. They’re infested with a parasite called the ‘Brissel Worm’, which gives them unique abilities and heightened intelligence. It is said that the ‘Brissel Worm’ is more Fley than the Fley themselves.
Do not mistake the head tentacles as decoration or hair, these are in fact the breathing apparatus of the ‘Brissel Worm’, which burst out of its host organism.
The Fley possess an incredible array of technology and are a vital cog in The Tribulation.
Fley IX Drone
The IX Drone is controlled by a neural network operated by an actual Fley brain.
Award-winning composer, Mick Gordon, will use his broad experience to tell Beautiful Desolation’s auditory story. We’re thrilled to have such a talent translate our ideas into a sound unique to this game universe.
To many he needs no introduction, as Mick has score titles such as DOOM, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Microsoft’s Killer Instinct reboot under his belt (we said award-winning, right?!); so every note and precisely placed chord will draw you in.
His use of both traditional and modern techniques, and sometimes unconventional musical pairings, matches Desolation’s tribalpunk clash of old and new.
Collaborating with an experienced and passionate artist, who considers the role of the game’s music as a translation of its environment, allows for us to the convey ideas, emotions and backstory for each track.
This way Mick fully appreciates and applies this from the outset to create his own musical vision.
Mark has arrived at the entrance to The Kettle: a bustling settlement that sits at the base of the Bulwark, an enormous wall of compacted buildings and overgrown trees.
Our previous games focused on isolation, while in Beautiful Desolation we’ve opened the doors to our new world, creating environments populated with vibrant and strange characters. We want a living, breathing world for Mark to explore that includes augmented humans, drones, robots, and bizarre animals.
In addition, we’ve finalized gameplay technicalities such as the UI amd camera control which you can see in action in the video.
We’d like to give you a peak at the lovely fluid effects that we’re including in Beautiful Desolation.
One of the most difficult elements to exhibit realistically is liquid flow. Cascading water contains millions of tiny particles interacting with one another – reacting to gravity, and colliding with the objects around them. While there are certainly ways to create the effect using shaders, we decided to go with a 2D pre-rendered approach that will be augmented with a particle simulation; this keeps to our true vision of a 2D game.
Using this, we’ve setup a waterfall containing over ten million particles. The simulation is then rendered out to a movie and turned into a looping animation. The looping animation is then broken up using a Unity particle system.
We’re able to use this same technique to create steam and smoke. In this sequence we are using photographic smoke elements and combining them with particles to show the steam rising off of a freshly slaughtered pig!
What is the allure of a project like BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION? It’s that we’re creating an undiscovered world for players to explore!
With our game inspiration in our own backyard, we have a unique opportunity to visit and engage with the very environments we’re looking to construct. So, recently Nic and I packed a bag (and our camera equipment) and headed to a mountainous area – surrounded by beautiful farmlands and rivers – to record, photograph and photoscan.
During these few days, we took thousands of photos – capturing everything from construction equipment and barrels to the aftermath of smaller rock falls and large muddy puddles caused by recent rains. We aren’t using large equipment to do our scans (picture me with a camera and hiking shoes), so we can reach fairly inaccessible places to capture interesting environments.
Not only did we capture photographic elements, but also the sounds surrounding us at different times of the day – this way we can hopefully bring you a natural and believable slice of the world. Birdsong, the sounds of wind and water, walking down gravel paths, the frogs that come out at night – all of these layers of sounds will be brought together.
Going out into nature also helps us capture the essence of an area – and hopefully that will translate into unique places to explore in our African DESOLATION.
Apart our trek to the veld, we are at the early design phase of interface implementation. Interface design is extremely important and plays an important part in setting the tone of this world.
With STASIS, we were inspired by the diegetic UI design of Dead Space – something which felt right at home in a horror game. From John’s Quantum Storage Device to the computer PDAs – everything in the game’s interface was designed to keep you inside The Groomlake and form part of the scene.
BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION will see a skeuomorphic interface inspired by the real-world designs of the 70s and 80s and the interface design of Fallout. Wooden panelling, chrome inlays and vacuum-formed plastic have replaced the harsh metal and blood-stained wires of STASIS. However, the idea remains to always keep the player grounded in the game world and sprinkle in some classic game nostalgia to boot.
Last month we announced that we were going to depart from the static screens found in STASIS and CAYNE – rather producing large, scrollable areas to explore.
This African world that we’re creating needs to reflect a thriving eco-system of flora and fauna, with a tumultuous environment that requires movement and life.
To begin this journey, we’ve created a low memory footprint animation technique that will allow us to bring the desired movement to (otherwise static) backgrounds.
Using 3D trees and plants didn’t look right for the effect we’re striving for; we wanted a smoother integration into the background pictures.
We’ve now chosen to use 2-dimensional images with a warp mesh to facilitate this motion.
This process involves creating a flat mesh in 3D StudioMax. Bones and various warping mesh techniques are used to build a moving image.
These are then imported into the game engine. By slightly angling these meshes, Mark can realistically walk through long grass. It gives the grand illusion of being 3-dimensional when in fact it is a flat pre-rendered image.
We’re adamant about putting the beautiful into Beautiful Desolation!
We’re exited to reveal that BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION will feature our largest environment art yet. In STASIS the backgrounds were 1280 x 720. We further increased the resolution of CAYNE to 1920 x 1080. DESOLATION will feature 7680×4320 scrolling backgrounds. Our hero won’t be locked into a small area and can now explore the beautiful landscape, unhindered.
An example of the larger scrolling environments can be seen in Witherberg.
The frontier town of Witherberg is a well known meeting place in the post-apocalyptic Savannah. Nestled on the edge of the desert, known locally as the Old Woman’s Womb, this is home to hunters – that harvest the parasitical worms that infest the sandy wasteland.
This mix of diverse cultures is reflected our design that includes exotic cloth and bright colors that form the souks and market place.
The fishing village has elements inspired by the Nigerian settlement of Makoko, which is a floating fishing village in Nigeria. Wooden stilts push each structure above the ground, and hold them perilously over the edge of a huge ravine.
The wooden structures of the buildings are filled up with scraps of metal to create sturdy walls – while several structures have textile coverings to allow airflow, to make the inhabitants as comfortable as possible while being protected from the elements.
One of the major inspirations in our game design was bringing back the excitement that we felt when exploring the original Fallout’s map. Our map is a core feature of BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION and provides a tangible link to all of the interesting areas that you’re able to explore in this post apocalyptic world.
Mark has commandeered an ancient weather satellite that provides an aerial view of his current location. Shifting clouds of deadly gasses cover the earth making areas inaccessible but frustratingly visible.
Geography and history will entwine to reflect in the environments and their march through time. Working on the histories of the different areas and how they’ve grown out of this ruined world, is both exciting and challenging. We’re building a tome of writing for each and every area.
The map will also feature varied biomes that in turn allow for awesome design possibilities.
In the heart of the Meadowland, an idyllic grassland, Greenpoint sits like a dark pustule. A slave compound has been built in the center of a crumbling sports stadium…
We’re currently focusing on the shanty town that has sprung up around Greenpoint.
We learnt a lot while crafting an audio experience for STASIS and CAYNE.
George Lucas famously said that “sound is ‘half of the film’ experience“. We think that sound is even more important in interactive media and we take great care in building a detailed audio pallet for our players.
When producing the sound for STASIS, we started by watching as many 80s sci-fi and horror films as possible. What we often do is turn off the picture completely and then dissect the background audio atmosphere. Something that you will notice first is that film always has some sort of backtrack playing. Subtle ambient sounds and music is used to prompt the mood of the viewers. They use this to great advantage in horror films where silence replaces the background sound and is as powerful as an orchestral score.
Both STASIS and CAYNE play an ambient ‘back track’ for the entire duration of the game, including over menus and cut scenes. You probably haven’t noticed it, but it is there – subtly piecing everything together. We also include an infrasound layer. This low-frequency sound can apparently cause an emotive response of awe or fear.
We then have scene specific ambience. For instance, a passage in CAYNE may feature mechanical sounds in the far off distance or a garbled PA announcement.
The next layer pertains to scene specific sounds, a whirring fan or a crackling electric fuse.
We’ve found that creating this multi-layer soundscape further immerses and engages the player.
Often with the newer gaming engines, sounds are post processed at runtime. This means that reverb and other special effects are applied while the game is being played. Our games are 2D and we feel that it we would have more control over the sound if we applied the effects prior to adding them into the engine. This is a stylistic choice that we may revisit at a later date.
On top of the soundscape, we then add a musical score that attempts to convey the mood we’re trying to create in this area. This music shouldn’t overpower the events but rather add a rich audio experience to the action unfolding. When we created STASIS we wanted an instantly recognizable melody. Mark Morgan wrote a hauntingly beautiful piece of music which we then based all of our other musical tracks on.
MUSIC OF BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION
This world of DESOLATION gives us the opportunity to create a unique musical score. We plan on creating a fusion of African drum beats, Maasai choirs and the iconic synth sounds of the 80s.
When the game moves into full time production and we start to work with our chosen composer, we’ll bring in the strong melodies and weave them into a beautiful and unique soundtrack.
The trailer music was the first piece we created as an attempt at the rough direction we want to take the musical score. In 2 minutes we travel from the 80s through to the alien sounds of The Penrose, and then end with the wonderfully twisted sounds of a post apocalyptic Africa. While all of these scenes are vastly different in their design, the music brings it all together.
Another music track we did for the making of videos:
As far back as during the development of STASIS, both Nic and I spent time discussing several ideas for future projects. During these conversations we kept circling back to a vivid post apocalyptic world.
A story revolving around a similar theme to STASIS: family. The idea of two brothers, transported to another world fell beautifully into place in a post apocalyptic African dystopia. This setting was a feature of our original story. It was different, inspiring, and considering our location – achievable! For research, we just had to open the door and step outside.
MARK AND DON
While STASIS focused on the a man’s desire to save his wife and child, BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION will be a story about brothers. A story about love, loss and accepting the errors of the past and moving on.
Creating this dynamic is a challenge, but something that I think that we can achieve.
Just as The Last Of Us showed the connection that a father can have with his daughter, BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION will showcase a brotherly bond.
Post apocalyptic worlds are the perfect vessel for exploring. The desire to walk through an abandoned city, and the idea of solitude that is obtained by stripping away of societies niceties. A lawless world combined with the anti-hero always makes for compelling stories. However, that sense of danger and exploration has started to wane. How could we create a world where that ‘thing’ over the horizon was new and different? Where the world felt truly alien, but still tangible?
Early on we decided that we wanted to show off the incredibly diverse fauna that Africa has to offer. Africa is a rich foundation to draw from and to build on with giraffes towering over the tree tops to herds of elephants leaving wakes of destruction in their paths. We plan on taking local African folktales and myth and twisting it into the social construct of our future apocalypse.
The effects of the Penrose are felt like ripples in time and as such this is reflected in local attire. A mix of technology and necessity is showcased on the daily lives of the local Denizens.
This will make for interesting puzzles and quests that weave through the narrative, and touch on the lives of inhabitants of this place.
Pooch is affectionately labeled after the nickname of our Labradoodle, Chelsea. ‘A boy and his dog’ are a strong motif that can be an illustrative bond between two creatures. Now, what if that dog could speak and had a precocious attitude? Like with CAYNE and STASIS, we’re interested in telling personal stories. A motto of ours has always been to write about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
Pooch, Mark and Don will need each other to survive this harsh place and we know that you will connect with them instantly in a world of desolation.
Our games are essentially made up of flat pictures. I believe that removing the concern over the amount of polygons that make up a scene, allows us to add in an inordinate amount of detail into each image.
We can also focus on how we compose the environment – having full control over how the player will visually perceive an area.
Animated areas can give the scene the illusion of depth, because this is after all a flat picture. Adding motion does however take some planning.
Images are rendered out as animated frames which are then imported into After Effects. In After Effects, stock footage (smoke, fire and other natural elements) is added.
Animated areas are masked out and rendered as separate sprites and layers which are then imported into the game engine.
Working this way allows us to have a good idea about what the final scenes will look and feel like before it is imported into the engine.
We can iterate quickly to get to a final result that we’re happy with!
When we started on full time game development we made the decision to move over to Unity. I’ve used Unity for many years for client work in the 3D industry, and we assumed that the flexibility of this immensely powerful application would facilitate a better game. This choice also meant that Chris could work on producing the graphics and I’d work on implementing them in the engine programmatically. This is the same partnership arrangement that we’d used in our previous careers – so it seemed like the right way to go.
As a programmer, I’m always keen to implement everything myself and rewrite the engine from scratch (to some degree). This time, I chose not to fight the way Unity works and do things the Unity way.
Start of technical babble.
CAYNE’s isometric framework is simple in implementation.
A key insight into the process of making this game so rapidly was to separate the graphics from the scene events and the managers.
To begin, we check the config.ini setup. We then load an ENGINE scene (this ENGINE scene also contains all of the engine logic for the game). ENGINE stays resident for the entire game and holds all of the managers as well as the GAME STATE setup.
This is great because dialogue, music and some sound effects can exist over scenes, so if the player loads a new room then the music doesn’t end abruptly but carries on seamlessly. This applies to dialogue as well.
Once the ENGINE has loaded, it will then check the GAME STATE and load the correct scene. Interestingly, Unity have made this process even easier with 5.5+ so I assume this is now the default workflow.
An important hint for developers is to work out how to store and manage the ‘game state’ early on. Don’t leave saving and loading until the end of the development cycle – CAYNE loads and saves the state constantly and because we did this early on, we could make sure that it was working correctly. In a game that relies so heavily on subtle variable changes this was a godsend. In an adventure game, if a single state or value is off then the entire game may break!
Each scene contains its own path-finding graph, the graphic and scene décor. This along with an event script that manages all events in this particular area. The event script is crude and doesn’t contain any management code – it only contains logic for the scene. The actual managers exist on ENGINE so when each scene loads it checks in with the ENGINE and recalls the game info it needs.
Doing this separates the managers from the specific scenes, which allows us to make game wide changes on a few scripts and have them affect the entire game.
Furthermore, input is managed at a higher level which means that the path-finding solutions are handled on the ENGINE. In fact, Hadley doesn’t even exist in the scene itself, she exists at a higher level and is merged into the scene at run-time and out of the scene once the player loads a new one. This further accentuates our philosophy of separating the graphics (scenes) from the meat of the game engine.
We can then decorate the scene and add detail inside the Unity editor, which is where Unity excels. We found this rapidly allowed the testing of an effects look and feel. Don’t feel compelled to build your own game editor – once you do things the Unity way, you’ll see how powerful this engine really is. I feel for a graphics heavy game that this is the best approach.
In terms of the scene itself, CAYNE is a 2D game. What we mean by this is that each area is a 2D pre-rendered scene produced in 3D Studio Max. Hadley is 3D, which allows us a far superior animation than we could achieve in STASIS.
We stuck with 2D for two reasons: first and foremost, Chris is a 2D artist and this is where he excels. 3D environments require a lot more design input into the game engines as well as substantial low poly modeling.
Secondly, there is a certain magic that still exists in 2D. Every room in the facility is handcrafted and each item or element is deliberately placed in the design. To achieve this in the engine, we have used Unity’s UI Canvas tool. An image is loaded in the Canvas and scaled correctly. We then load a custom Shader, that only accepts shadows, which has Hadley cast a 3D shadow onto a 2D plane to further integrate her into the scene.
I found that Unity’s built in Nav Mesh was not suited to a node specific game. Hadley needed to walk to exact locations on the node grid and the Nav Mesh didn’t work well for this. I liken it to hitting a nail with a bazooka – Nav Mesh seems like overkill so we build our own simple Dijkstra based solution.
There is a developer’s console in CAYNE. You can access it by holding shift and hitting tilde ~ This allowed me to test CAYNE at run-time (even outside the Unity editor). It also allows jumping to any scene, adding inventory items, testing music and even interfacing with the game state and variables.
End of the technical babble
We finished CAYNE in just 11 months from concept to completion. We did spend an additional 3 months testing it and getting all of the bugs squashed. Testing it on 3 platforms (Windows, Linux and Mac) has gotten a bit tiresome but it allowed a day one launch.
We’ll be using the exact same framework for BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION. We plan on adding further enhancements like characters that walk around the scene, as well as foliage, colored shadows, day/night cycles plus many other features to make the world feel alive. Producing CAYNE allowed us to iron out most of the implementation issues and will let us get right to the fun stuff immediately.
During pre-production we decided that we wanted to create a unique look for DESOLATION. Due to the real-world appeal we wanted to achieve, we felt that the design should be grounded in reality.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of film miniatures. The incredible model work on early films has always given me a sense of wonder. I’m the guy who watches the hours of features on the Bonus DVD.
Working in a post apocalyptic world gives us SO many incredible opportunities to work with miniatures. It starts with an idea. These can be as simple as a scribble on a napkin or a more complex 3d recreations of the scene we’re going to create. These concepts then allow us make educated decisions about what we need to create and the final locations we’re going to put our model in. Once we have an area fleshed out it’s off to the model shop!
Model kits are combined in unconventional ways in a ‘kit bash’ fashion. Paint is then applied with an airbrush, including additional details and weathering. We also include a destructive phase – that involves matches and a hammer (you’d want to see this!) – and then more paint.
How exciting it is for us that we get to use actual locations in South Africa for our game? The locations could be as simple as an interesting construction site, or a pristine beach. The human brain has a difficult time distinguishing the scale of an object if there is nothing familiar to compare it to. Knowing this rock could become a building sized boulder, and a sand eroded cliff can become a mountain range.
While BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION is only seen from an isometric angle, the model is scanned in 360 degrees giving us even further freedom when putting the scene together.
All of these photos are taken into our software which then outputs a dense 3D model and texture generated from the photographs.
This ship (above) and its surroundings have over 10 million polygons! To put that into perspective, a normal AAA game character will have around 40 000 polygons.
Once this has been set up, additional details to provide the needed scale are added. Grass, water, and other natural elements are placed, and any story elements are integrated into the scenes. From there it gets painted over and taken into Unity where another detail pass of 3D objects, particles, and finally lighting through the use of normal mapping ties it all together.
Every image contains a piece of Africa – a moment that we have captured forever.
I fell in love with Blizzard the first time I saw the Starcraft introduction movie. It perfectly encapsulated the world that they had crafted. The marines weren’t just sprites, they had character!
When we initially started thinking about how to present the world of BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION we wanted to do a film style trailer. This trailer needed to show the fantastic developments The Penrose brought, as well as the journey into a post apocalyptic future. We needed to create a variety of visceral scenes that told the back story to BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION.
The first step was creating a script that would dictate how best to tell this tale in a few short minutes. Once we had the script in place, I put together a very quick pre-visualization animatic. This allowed us to adjust and rework the timing before the detailing and rendering process was undertaken.
We took extra time to add in detail that may not be the focal point, but without these, the scenes wouldn’t have been as well rounded as they needed. This included different operating systems and applications on the varied monitors – also note the tiny logos of each competing corporation.
Post apocalyptic Africa was achieved using matte paintings. This technique involves a painted image that is projected over 3D geometry, allowing movement through a seemingly still painting.
The final video is the result of hours of work and shows the quality we’ll be showcasing in BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION.