Tag Archives: indie games

Musical Prison Break

This piece of music was originally done a couple years back, in a software that doesn’t allow exporting the MIDI data. Since I now work in Reaper, I had to reprogram it by hand from start to finish. The upside of this spectacle is that I can finally continue working on it.

Most of the strings part was done by the violins in the old version, because I didn’t know a whole lot about how to orchestrate things, i.e. spread them out across all the different instruments. So I wrote a violin part that should have been a viola part, and kept wondering what to do with the violas. Turns out the joke is on me.

The old version had eight instrument tracks; the new version has 23, i.e. most of the orchestra. There’s now trumpets in there, tuba, full woodwind section, solo oboe, celli, and viola. Plus the relatively new mixing and mastering chains and seperate reverb units done per section of the orchestra. Plus a decidedly non-orchestral effect: artificial stereo echo on the harp. I figure I can take some liberties like that if it adds some kick.

Best of all, I’ve got the raw data now, so FREEDOM!


Do That Again, With More Boom

Current WIP.

For those interested in this stuff and owning a working set of ears, here’s the progress:

  • Dynamics (MIDI velocity, expression etc)
  • Tempo (it varies now)
  • Mixing (clarity, separation, room)
  • Effects
  • Mastering

Channel effects: VoS BootEQ, Tesla (harmonic saturation), TDL Kotelnikov compressor on drums. EQ was mainly used to add brilliance to horns and snares. The Kotelnikov is actually a primo drum compressor IMHO, clean but punchy.

Mix effects: VoS EpicVerb (1 per section of the orchestra). Doing it per section really adds room.

Mastering effects: VoS Thrillseeker XTC (exciter), Thrillseeker LA compressor, VladG Limiter 6.

The use of a limiter makes this quite a bit louder and more even in loudness than previous mixes. This is heresy for classical music fans, but since this is a game soundtrack, I opted for loudness for the hearing impaired and to compete with booming guns.

Writing has made good progress as well. I feel I’m on a new level with my writing. Which is good and man, it’s about time all that elbow grease paid off.

Note: It recently came to my attention that Firefox may not always display videos on this blog. If that is the case for you, kindly try without Adblock for this site?


Making a 5 point perspective grid

5point_grid

From the department for weird stuff you never learned in school comes this monstrosity. A 5 point perspective is basically a fisheye-lens type view. I was curious if I could accurately construct one (most people seem to just wing it with the curved lines). Turns out it’s not really possible on paper because the radii get too big but in Mypaint or Gimp, it’s quite possible to do it with the ellipse tools pretty accurately.

You can actually see the five vanishing points here because so many lines cross there 🙂

In reality, this is really just a 1 point perspective (the center vanishing point) with curved verticals / horizontals. This is apparently pretty close to how the human eye sees things.

What’s it good for? Use as an overlay in a drawing software to create fisheye-lens effects in your (concept) art.


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.


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!