Crap of War

“Games journalists” are very excited about the latest installment in the God of War franchise, a game about brutalizing everything that walks, because Kratos is a dad now (that seems to be a thing as game developers get older – what can we do with Kratos? Oh right, make him a dad, because we can relate to that now).

Aww. He cares so much about his son that he teaches him to charge headlong into danger, instead of away from it, because Kratos totally doesn’t want the boy to become like himself.

… Smart move, Kratos.

Hand the boy a weapon and he’ll grow up to become an upstanding, peace-loving citizen, and be real good at solving problems without resorting to violence. I’m sure.

I might have more to say about it, depending on the exact way it butchers Norse mythology, in a while. But seriously, this is a thing about dismembering monsters yet everybody finds a ton of highly philosophical things to say about it?

Hand me the acid, please.

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No Bingo

_protagonistbingo

Rock Paper Shotgun had an article about “Male Protagonist Bingo”, demonstrating how well-known videogame protagonists easily fill over half the card.

Naturally, I played Bingo for Scout, but no bingo for her…

Then again, someone should probably create a “Female Protagonist Bingo” card. I wonder what that would look like. “Lara Croft Clone”, “Edgy Tattoo”, “Skin Tight Suit”, “Boob Armour”, “Healer”, “Underage”, might be a good beginning, but we can keep “Military Rank”, “Supernatural Powers” and “Psychological Problems”, I think.

And… here is the female protagonist bingo. *cough*

And here is the original blog post by wundergeek. It’s the truth, all of it.


Old dog, new tricks.

Here’s a snippet you probably haven’t heard. I tried to introduce more dynamics, having these strings swell in and out to mimic a real orchestra.

I picked up a few new tricks recently, such as  using pink noise to balance the mix (google it) and doing better gainstaging in Reaper, meaning the meters aren’t flashing red anymore at all. I now mix closer to -18dB than 0dB. This gives one additional headroom, which makes things a lot more relaxed. I also started to use mid/side processing on the mix bus (this allows me to control the middle and sides of the stereo spectrum separately).

On top of that, I’m trying to measure loudness with a LUFS meter on the master bus. If you’ve never heard of LUFS, I can’t blame you, it’s something used in broadcasting to determine average loudness. Youtube and other streaming services actually limit the LUFS your video can have. Now, if I could just find out what their actual numbers are. They seem to change these limits unpredictably. If you’re too loud, your video gets limited (try right clicking on a youtube video and click “stats for nerds” if you’re interested).

Furthermore, I’m using some new plugins. I might as well mention what they are:

I also now use a dedicated mix bus in Reaper, so I can have the Master set at 0 db and measure the loudness there more precisely. All the effects have moved to the mix bus, except the loudness maximizer, LUFS meter and Pink. This became necessary because you can’t have post-fader plugins on the Master in Reaper. Loudness needs to be measured after the last fader, though.

So, a whole bunch of esoteric music stuff is being done right now. Other things as well. I’ll continue to post updates.

 

… And, of course, there is an easier way to do the swelling strings effect. Buried in the depths of Reaper, there is a plugin that allows to simply do it with bezier curves, aka envelopes. It’s called ReaControlMIDI and I don’t know why they don’t make that the default on new MIDI tracks. Reaper is awesome, but a lot of its functionality is hidden in obscure plugins or menus.

reacontrolmidi

Of course, I only find this plugin months later, while watching random youtube videos. *sigh* Feels almost like Linux! Home sweet home!

 


New Theme WIP

 

New WIP of this theme. It contains quite a lot of new music and should also sound much better than the version from last year (it’s two and a half times as long!). Let me know what you think in the comments.

If you’re wondering who the heck Esperanza is, she’s the main impact character in the game, an enemy who befriends Scout and turns into an ally. A strong but tragic character with a lot of moral greyness to her.

I’ve been adding snippets to the themes and intend to use those on their own wherever appropriate to underscore moments in the game. That’s why there are lots of different feelings collected under the roof of one theme.  They’re a little like a library.

 

Edit: There is a high quality Ogg Vorbis version of this music available here. In case anyone doesn’t want to stop short of the full sonic goodness. Youtube isn’t too kind to the quality of uploaded music. By the way, this is classical music, which means it doesn’t conform to the standards of the “loudness war”, which translates to: turn it up some.

Edit 2: An alternative Ogg Vorbis version using convolution reverb (based on characteristics of real-world concert rooms) instead of algorithmic (“digital”) reverb can be found here.

The sound is different because the virtual orchestra is playing in a “real” space. I’m impressed by convolution reverb – it sounds “richer” where algorithmic sounds “cleaner”. Not sure which way I prefer yet. (The convolution reverb plugin used was Liquid Sonics Reverberate LE. The algo reverb plugin was Variety of Sound Epic Verb).


Script excerpt.

Since I was asked for it, I decided to post an excerpt from the main script. Please understand that I can’t post the full script or the detailed synopsis with plot points.

Let’s just say what I’m linking here is the first ten percent of the main script. Most game projects don’t make this kind of stuff available to their community. I’m trusting you guys with this. Take note that this is copyrighted material, made available for informational and educational purposes only.

Without further ado, here is the first 20 pages of the Scout’s Journey main script! The PDF opens in a new tab.

You’re invited to join Scout (and some minor characters) as she begins her adventure! Enjoy!

Feedback always welcome!


general update.

So, here’s where it’s at with Scout’s Journey development as of now. I apologize in advance for the wall of text. I hope it is worth reading. A better format may be forthcoming.

General situation

Game development has been continuous from 2012 until today and is still going strong, with a recent milestone reached in that the plot is completely written. Money is an issue, but that has always been the case and is no blocker. My health is not optimal, and something is being done about that. Also no real blocker, but bothersome and has definitely impacted the pace of development in the last 3 years. However, progress is made all the time.

A major problem is just sheer loneliness; few people in the indie game scene are doing what I am doing, although reports keep popping up of people finishing games after near-decade-long development etc., so others are out there. But day-to-day exchange with similar projects is rare because they almost don’t exist. People from a modding or general indie background often flat out don’t understand what the project is: A standalone story-based first person 3D game with combat, stealth and exploration mechanics. Such a thing is incredibly rare in the indie game world.

Timeline

  • Game started out as a collection of ideas during work on Remake Quake, a Quake mod, from 2007 to 2012. Lots of these ideas didn’t fit the Quake mold.
  • SJ became its own project in the summer of 2012, running on a variety of idtech-based engines (RMQengine, Warsow engine, FTE, Darkplaces etc). Tests were also done on Unity relatively early.
  • Main asset development is in Blender.
  • A dedicated codebase (gamecode) existed for the game while it ran on the idtech engines, and was developed relatively far, especially the RPG aspects (interactive GUI, novel gameplay mechanics, custom all-original NPC dialogue parsing etc were all functional).
  • Lots of assets were developed, including two full levels of a scale much bigger than Quake (later divided into sublevels for performance), two more gigantic locations that were leftovers from RMQ, a full weapon lineup, props etc.
  • Levels were converted from BSP to mesh with meshcollision relatively early.
  • Terrain modelling methods were tested and refined.
  • The game went to combination lightmaps/realtime lights pretty early.
  • Character modelling has begun but was put on hold when it turned out that the story side of the game was a mess. (Also, that is hard.)

Changes

The idtech engines were abandoned along the way simply because I deemed them not reliable/ rugged enough for this type of project. I still believe that was the right decision. Unreal is the goal, but from the end of 2013 and the spring of 2014 onward, most work was done on the storyline, with art and music on the side. I simply needed to bring up the rear, instead of blindly marching on with levels and assets, although those have not been abandoned.

It is simply the case that level design needs to proceed in accordance with the story. If the plot says “Scout goes from here to there”, the levels need to be laid out in the same manner. And if the script says, “Scourge Martyrs attack”, then concept art needs to be made and gameplay mechanics and weapons need to be developed for that enemy type.

This is why the script needs to be in place BEFORE levels and monsters etc. are finalized. And lots of game projects don’t understand this in time. I believe Rhianna Pratchett has mentioned this – you cannot graft a story onto a mostly finished game, it has to be done story first.

Mechanics

A game design document was compiled from roughly 2012 to 2015, ever changing especially in the core gameplay department. Broadly speaking, the game turned from a first person shooter into more of a stealth and exploration game with combat largely optional.

The quake-style encounter design was completely removed and a dynamic runtime-based patrol and AI group system was substituted. In plain English: The levels are populated with patrols and checkpoints etc. by the program during runtime, and enemies can dynamically call for reinforcements or do a tactical retreat. This suits the stealthy gameplay much better. Fundamentals of this were actually implemented in QuakeC already, with the AI controller being nicknamed “Mother” after the computer from the Alien movies. Large influences were the ALife system from Stalker and some work done in RMQ on randomized monster placement.

Writing

Writing is incredibly hard to master. (Most people have probably heard of the 10,000 hour rule.) Here’s a chronological breakdown:

  • End of 2012, a loose plot emerged from the sequence of locations.
  • During 2013, a cast of supporting characters developed.
  • Factions and their relations developed in the game world.
  • 2014-15, I started to get a grip on the entire writing thing.
  • Lots of feedback was received from “beta readers”.
  • Consequently, a lot of rewriting happened.
  • 2016 – 17 was a time of constant gradual improvements.
  • Two (!) artificial languages were developed.
  • Some holes in the plot were incredibly hard to fill.
  • The protag, Scout, was a difficult character to write.

Only recently did everything line up. The format of the script changed several times, because there really is no standard in game writing. This is uncharted territory. The beta readers and writing buddies were incredibly helpful here.

Would the real Scout please stand up?

As for Scout herself, she originally was supposed to be a female version of Ranger, the Quake protagonist. Then the entire Quake mod thing fell apart. Suddenly, Scout became a person.

She wanted to talk. She started to take on a life of her own. So did other characters. Scout does some outrageous things in the story, such as coming back to life (twice), meeting the gods, having a near death experience, travel between worlds and outside of them, encounter her childhood self, and set off a number of conflicts among the various factions, turning friends to enemies and vice versa.

In the beginning, she was overly passive and lacked agency. Getting her behind the wheel, and having her be an active protagonist and a moving force, was a piece of work. Getting in her head and understanding what makes her special was incredibly difficult. She is different from the usual game protagonist. Even her ingame interface is different from other games. Even the controls differ (WASD is still there, but using tools and weapons is done differently).

Scout carries the entire game though, mechanically and plot wise, so she needed to be rock solid. I’m not sure there is any other game protagonist quite like her.

Transcending

Over the course of writing, it became clear that not only Scout transcends video game (and human) standards, but the game itself transcends the shooter and stealth genres. Antagonists can be stabbed and slashed, obstacles can be overcome, but Scout’s major personal problem can neither be dodged nor shot to pieces. The end of the script also obliterates the difference between interactive and noninteractive content. It doesn’t even matter anymore.

Current status

I’m deeply wondering about how we can really tell stories in games. What the narrative structure can be. How interactive and cinematic toolkits can be combined in this medium.

Practically speaking, it is hard to overstate the importance of the recent milestone. A few things have to be plugged from the synopsis into the main script yet, and some dialogue has to be written out, that kind of stuff. But we’re really on top of things here. We have climbed the mountain. I still have a hard time believing that. It was such a slog. I keep expecting the next sheer cliff face, but I’m not seeing any. I feel like I’m going back to art and asset production soon-ish.

Some other stuff has been accomplished besides writing, namely music work and some mechanics polish as well as research and experimentation. For instance, I have a concept for loot boxes that work, giving you the excitement of opening surprise boxes but without the bullshit monetisation schemes attached. I’m very closely watching things like that.

I’ve been thinking about making videos for a while. I realize walls of text are hard to read. Bear with me.

Please note:

Help is always welcome. I’m having to cope with a lot of isolation. I barely have people to talk this stuff over with. If you want to read some of the script, look at some of the mechanics, need some qc code, want to talk level design, donate old hardware, man, I would be glad to oblige you.

 


Told.

goats_head_red

This guy is still coming at you.

The story is told. The Scout’s Journey plot is fully developed. The synopsis is 13 pages.

The full script, including dialogue and gameplay and audio logs, is near 200 (compare 120 pages for a typical film script), but the final bricks that fell into place during writing the synopsis still need to be put in. The game has no more than 12 audio logs, but they are slightly longer than usual. The beginning was recently rewritten again to let the player have control of Scout in under five minutes (now stop nagging, John Walker). Cutscenes will be skippable after watching once.

Pending new feedback or ultra-amazing ideas, this is a major milestone.

This part of the game really is back-breaking work. I’m finished.