Sound work and thoughts on free orchestral sample packs

Tweaked and expanded theme from SJ.

Things learned:

  • Using separate reverb sends (to the same unit though) from each channel, in order to simulate brass being further back, violins more to the front etc
  • Not using extreme left/right pan to leave room for the reverb
  • Using the entire orchestra, even woodwinds…
  • Using slight compression on the drums and in mastering (yeah I know, it’s classical music but I figure people expect this from videogames)
  • Using staccato patches where necessary (makes a large difference)
  • Blending solo instruments into the sections for thickening
  • Not going full tilt on the strings all the time
  • Using an envelope in Reaper to vary the tempo on the master track

I think I’m getting better at orchestration, too. I avoid clogging up frequencies too much.

What I want to try in the future: Fader automation and tweaking the MIDI velocity and expression even more. For the most part, velocity is already varied on every single note, but possibly not enough.

Plugins I use are still Variety of Sound. I’m most impressed by the EpicVerb and the Density stereo bus compressor, which is very subtle. The simple-to-use Thrillseeker LA compressor is also excellent, it’s what I used on the drums. His EQs and exciters don’t really do it for me though. He has a delay unit that’s very cool but I can’t really find a place for that yet.

New free stuff

I learned recently that there are two new free orchestral sample packages. One is the Virtual Playing Orchestra, which is based on the excellent Sonatina, and the other is a community package from a commercial maker, Versil Studios. Both are available in the free sfz format, so use the rgc:audio sfz player or Plogue Sforzando to get them into Reaper (or Logic or whatever else MIDI software you use).

Obviously I downloaded both and compared them to my trusty Sonatina. I feel the VPO package is very polished and useable, but the samples often seem overprocessed compared to Sonatina’s, which sound more natural and restrained to my ear. Especially the trombones, I thought, sounded almost like a synth. Other samples are possibly better than the Sonatina ones (flutes come to mind). All in all, a mixed bag. When I want EQs and harmonic distortion on my instruments, I prefer to do it myself; that’s why I prefer more natural sounding samples.

The Versil package was slightly disappointing; it sounded good but not orchestral. Horns and brass in Sonatina, for example, have the ability to go “full tilt” depending on MIDI velocity – the Versil ones appeared *too* restrained for my liking. The strings were adequate but I thought there were too many unwanted noises in the loud notes. I get the impression that they wanted to create a chamber orchestra, though, so maybe that’s why it sounds pretty tame. They have some very nice vibrato patches and somesuch, though.

It’s crazy times we live in, isn’t it. Making orchestral music is now basically free. High quality reverb plugins cost less than food. How strange is that.

I’ve also begun to work on atmospheric background tracks. Those are a lot more restrained and droney than the themes. The themes are basically collections of snippets and motifs that can later be picked and used as appropriate.


Some new music

Fleshing out a musical theme I began last year.

Other pieces of music have been touched up and remixed. Some themes (such as the reggae one) are no longer in the game. You can hear 10 minutes of work in progress music from Scout’s Journey here.

Contains:

Scout’s Theme
Esperanza’s Theme
Heroic Theme
Naruuk Theme
Goddess Theme
Herd Theme


What Writing Does in Game Dev

Time for an update.

Hard facts

On the technical side, I’m now working on a new PC that should be Unreal-capable. We’ll see when I get that running, I might feel inspired to start porting the first level to Unreal.

Truth is, as may be obvious in hindsight, that the switch away from the Quake engine was more of an obstacle than it should have been. I lost the ability to quickly prototype. But in the end, it’s better for the project. It may look like the old Daikatana mistake, but there’s a difference. This is not 1997 and Quake doesn’t cut it anymore, not in the face of Unreal, Unity and Cryengine. So I still feel the switch was necessary and justified.

It’s simply a fact of life that the FTE engine was too buggy, that I couldn’t do the things I needed to do, and that every time I broke one of those invisible Quake-technology walls I ended up in a minefield of untested things prone to failure. So while the engine switch did end up hurting the project, there really was no alternative. There is Darkplaces, but that would have meant another risky wager that a largely untested engine based on 1996 tech would be better suited than the first one. It just didn’t seem like a smart thing to do.

We’re slowly coming up, by our own boot-straps if you will, to a state where we can likely do a hopefully soft landing on a different platform. One of the environments was already dropped into Unity just to see what happens. Turns out it’s very doable. Unreal won’t be that different.

So engine wise, cutting the cable sort of spun me into a different orbit. Which took some time. Not least because I was busy thinking about more fundamental things.

Squishy stuff

Of course that’s not what most of the development time was sunk into over the last two years or so. People tend to not understand why all this writing is necessary. I won’t go into it much further, just know that the script basically IS the game, just minus the technical implementation side. It is simply the case that the style of game development I’m currently doing is so far removed from Quake modding that there’s not even any common ground I could use to explain it to that crowd.

We’re talking apples and oranges. Quake modding is largely mechanical. Change a line of code, and you’ll make the grenade launcher spit voreballs instead. Yay. The communication problem simply lies in the fact that modding Quake’s pineapple launcher and making a game like Scout’s Journey are two different universes. It’s like the language isn’t even the same.

The entire paradigm has changed. In late 2013, Scout’s Journey was basically a Quake mod that started to mightily rattle the cage. Development was largely writing code and painting textures, blocking in level geometry or modelling weapons. Roughly the stuff we did in Remake Quake, plus new problems such as doing terrain, being a lot more detailed and breaking the BSP visibility stuff to get it running fast enough. Very down to earth stuff in gamedev terms.

Real game development in 2016 is a completely different thing.

Scout’s Journey development isn’t based around just going in and writing code or smacking brushes together. It is turned inside out, or rather, right side out. The mechanical aspect of code and polygons is only an extension of the ephemeral core that is plot and design. This brings with it the realization that scriptwriting is in fact the new engine room. Not 3D modelling suites and not level editors and not IDEs.

The holy trinity of Scout’s Journey style game development are actually writing, art and programming, with the latter two being extensions of the former. Which is how it should be. It is a common complaint by game writers that companies are trying to tack on some writing on the tail end of an already half finished game. That is doomed to fail, and is what I’m NOT doing.

Simply put, a lot more development happens BEFORE the art and code stages. This is akin to saying, “hold on a moment, put down whatever tool you’re using and start actually thinking.” And this is the opposite of the modding mentality, which is “I’ll just go in and do this…”

Game development SHOULD start with writing. Unless it’s Pong or Tetris.

Translation

bzzz02

As an example, this lightning monster cage thing (from Remake Quake, around 2011?) was a result of the “I’ll just do something cool” approach. No doubt that approach is a valuable tool. But Scout’s Journey then takes something like this and turns it into that:

#script

An apparatus, like two half-moons made of humming electrodes, seems to draw energy from the creature itself in periodical crackling flashes. Hoses and cables stuck in the creature are drawing its blue ichor, in a slow drip, into a large glass vial.

Scout slowly wanders around it, circling the cage. She wonders, ”What is this thing doing?” Big Bear says, ”Whatever it is, keep your hands off of it. You’ll just run into trouble again.” The goddess speaks up: ”May I look through your eyes?” ”You may.” Scout gazes at the entire contraption. The goddess says, ”This right here says to me: Naruuk, the Star-Eater was here.” Scout keeps circling the machinery. The camera moves in large sweeps.

”He hates me because I’m of the Earth, and he thinks the Earth his slave and spits on it. It is the same with the Luminar. You know now that there are many worlds. And just like that, Nature finds a way to protect them, and tend to them. That is what the Luminar do. They are weavers of the great web. Holy servants of Nature.”

Scout fearfully reaches out to touch the creature. It doesn’t respond.

”They’re killing them”, Scout says. The goddess replies, ”Yes, they’re killing them. For fear, for greed, for negligence, they’re killing them.”

/script

So the idea of the shambler cage is still in there, just minus Quake’s shamblers, obviously. That’s because instead of monsters, Scout’s Journey has just another faction of intelligent beings that happen to be victimized by the real antagonist (and pissed off about it). Who, needless to say, was more than a little inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “elder gods” and so forth. I mean, with a name like “the Star-Eater.” And this, especially once Scout (and the little voices in her head)  encounter it, creates something more interesting than a random eye catching landmark on a Quake level. Basically, something like the shambler cage just makes the player say “neat” and move on to kill more monsters. The cage in Scout’s Journey has become much more than that. It became an anchor point for story, characters, philosophy, conflicts and what have you.

A whole lot of the stuff I did in Remake Quake was the nucleus for ideas that turned into something meaningful in Scout’s Journey, but only because of the writing.

The next step, after writing it out like the example above, is to turn it into new concept art (the cage won’t look quite the same, the size relations are different, the meaning is more complex) and only then modelling it, putting it into a level, and coding stuff like particle effects.

A lot of similar features and landmarks from my Remake Quake levels did survive into Scout’s Journey, just laden with different meaning.

Hopefully this gives people an idea what the writing phase is good for and what can be done with it. It’s like metamorphosis.

That’ll be it for now. In the interest of better understanding what is going on behind the sometimes slow-moving blog. The writing is unfortunately not as photogenic as simply posting assets.

Oh, and because the world is what it is: I call dibs on my own script. All rights reserved.


Masters of Puppets

Let’s play a mobile game, shall we? One of the top rated ones, preferably, one that promises light-hearted entertainment for the weary traveler, all for the price of watching an advertisement now and again. That seems like a fair deal. A no-brainer, right?

How about that zombie shooter with all the exalted reviews. Best zombie shooter ever made, they say. Best graphics. Looks like a console game. This could be on PlayStation 4, they say. All the cool kids are playing this, they say.

OK, that sounds slightly unrealistic for a mobile game, to the point where your mum would notice it, but let’s not be a party pooper. Maybe the game developers are just really good, right. Right? Don’t look at me like that.

The hook

First off, you get hit over the head with some jizztastic graphic shenanigans powered by Latest Fashionable Game Engine, Improved Shininess. Fire! Smoke! Exploding helicopters! What a show. Looks awesome, almost to good to be true for a mobile game, you think.

Until the first level is over, which happens suspiciously quickly, and you’re dropped in the real game. The hook has been deployed. The façade is ditched quickly. The scripted explosions and bombastic particle effects have faded.

The world turns into the blocky, repetitive sequence of boxes that it actually is. The shine dims into a tasteless, worldwide fake cubemap reflection. The pretense falls by the wayside until you can’t help but notice that fan made Quake levels look better than this pseudo-shiny console-quality wannabe contender.

The vicious circle

The basic gameplay seems surprisingly adequate for a mobile shooter, which these days is good enough to serve as part of the lure, until you realize that it isn’t terribly challenging.

Challenge is merely simulated by turning the basic zombies into bullet sponges over time in order to force you to upgrade your guns, which is otherwise completely pointless because the upgrades don’t actually do anything new. You see, the challenge is a lie.

The game just creates an endless grinding cycle of weapon upgrades that not only cost ingame money (read: your time) but also require you to upgrade the gunsmith first, which requires you to upgrade the tech level first, which requires both extra money and extra time, UNTIL you may then finally upgrade your pea shooter, which makes you wait for another 24 hours.

Bitch.

As if that wasn’t enough, the game will force video ads down your throat while you grind through the merciless slog that will make your gun’s damage output keep up with the ballooning hitpoint count of the common lead pipe zombie. Congratulations, mindless victim, you have been turned into a drooling button pusher while the game developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

But rejoice, there is a way to avoid all that: Paying real money.

The special offer

For just a couple quid, you can have enough gold to buy that upgrade now! Hey, what’s a couple quid, asks the hapless victim as he pulls out his parents’ credit card, tapping blindly down the downward spiral carefully prepared for him.

Hey, says the game, while you have your credit card out, why not buy a premium-only GOLDEN AK 47 for just 50 quid? Your friends will be impressed!

But here’s the thing.

The alternative

Once upon a time, games used to hand you all the cool stuff. You’d get a better, more impressive gun after simply playing for a while. No grinding, no paying for extra premium currency packs. The game would simply give you the rocket launcher, or the grenade launcher, or the crossbow, or the magic wand that freezes enemies so you can shatter them into a thousand pieces with one shot of your immense fertility dispenser.

Just like that.

And enemies would actually behave in more interesting ways the longer you played instead of simply having a variable increased whenever the developers felt they needed to wring some more dollars out of an audience of mindless MasterCard equipped teenage puppets.

And you’d only have to pay once. Up front.

And the best part: These miracle games are still around.

You see, when you can get classic games such as Quake, Half-Life 2, Crysis, or Left4Dead for under ten bucks, and play forever, spending fifty quid on a golden AK-47 in some ripoff mobile shooter looks about as attractive as a can of cold jizz.

And when you can play Team Fortress for free online, or download STALKER : Shadow of Chernobyl as a free, completely playable alpha version from the developer’s website, then spending real money on a premium currency pack for Zombie Money Laundry 2.5 seems to be something only a demented weasel would ever seriously consider.

Don’t fall for it

Here, says the game, with a desperate toothpaste smile, have a free slot machine to win some premium currency! Don’t have enough gold? No problem, ten gold just 3,99! Special offer!

Aw shuddup.

 


Look who it is!

Scout with sig

Hello Scout, you lovely freckled explorer you…

Ultra thank-you to my writer friend Dan O’Donnell – and his artist friend (love the style!) – for gifting me this.

This is the best.

Thanks so much. It’s rare to get this cool a present. I love how she seems to have all the cool in the world here.

Really inspiring.

Click here for larger version!


Munich: “Violence games” blamed again

After the Munich shooting German government and media are putting the blame on “Gewaltspiele”, which must be translated as “violence games” or even “homicide games”. German Minister of the Interior De Maiziere said: “Those violence games on the Internet can’t be good.” German weekly Der Spiegel picks up the ball and runs with it: “He called himself Hate – intensely played violence games on the Internet.”

The case is clear, right? Those damned games corrupted yet another innocent young man.

What do we know?

  • Shooter grew up in Germany but also had an Iranian passport
  • Known as a nice boy to neighbours
  • Was undergoing treatment for depression
  • Was ridiculed by classmates, had no friends
  • Was invited to Counter-Strike team “out of pity”
  • Racist toward Turks and Jews, spouted hate online
  • Described by teammates as “strongly nationalistic”
  • Called himself “Amokläufer” (“crazy shooter”)
  • Worshipped other teenage shooters
  • Started team-killing online, then dropped out
  • Researched shootings such as Anders Behring Breivik’s
  • Committed shooting on 5 year anniversary of Utøya shooting
  • Shouts in a video, “I am a German”
  • Large part of victims were immigrants
  • Killed himself when confronted by police

Looks to me like he was a racist fucker who worshipped Breivik. Possibly had a hard youth. Apparently police assisted suicide with shooting spree.

Sad story. But video games as the culprit? Seems like a stretch. More like, playing a disproportionate amount of video games and spouting hate online (as unfortunately, a lot of self-professed “gamers” tend to do) are a symptom and an outlet for such people. How exactly video games function in this context (perhaps as desensitizers?) isn’t clear at all. They’re not the root cause for this guy’s fucked-up life story, anyway.

Breivik, who killed almost 100 people in Norway five years ago, played World of Warcraft… as millions of people do without turning into crazed killers.

Come on, politicians, media people, there has to be a better reason and it’s not that hard to find.

 


Pole hammers and word monsters

poleaxe_hammer

I was inspired to do this concept of a poleaxe-like weapon after watching a guy talk about a Danish axe on youtube. Yes, I watch stuff like that. I want to keep the Scout’s Journey weaponry halfway realistic (if you count laser pistols and insect-powered biorailguns and plasma cannons that look like half a motorcycle among those) but I get the feeling this weapon kinda stretches it a little. It does look cool, so I might eventually fit it in there. I maybe overdid it with the energy weapons for the Order faction a little, they are some conservative guys after all who value a good hunk of steel, so one of them might step up and adopt the hammer-axe.  Who knows. Then again, I’m still sketchy on what weapon to give my “army of the dead” type NPCs, but does this look like something the good guys would use?

Exactly, it looks like it was made to smash the infidels. So, in the Order pile it goes. It does fit the bill of sci-fi mutations of medieval weapons that I’ve got going on, so it’s probably a contender. Sci-fi inquisition type stuff.

I’ve hit a snag with my script. It really is very close to done now, as I said to my beta-reading author friend Dan recently, I doubt there will be another major revision. Just got to go over it with the fine comb a couple more times. This and that needs smoothing over still. But I might just take a time out from writing and do other stuff again. My fingers are itching for some art. If only it was easier to find beta readers. Is reading some kind of lost art? You only need to wave a couple-thousand word document around and people scatter in all directions. What the heck. Makes me wonder how people react to books these days. You know, those 300-page monsters made out of dead trees.

The horror, the horror.