Hi. I'm Damjan and I'm the developer behind the beast that is The Seed. Something being a beast is good right? Anyway...
This time we'll go a bit more in depth around the HEXACO choice analysis system we developed uniquely for this game.
As you may already know, the HEXACO system we introduced into the game follows your every choice, no matter how trivial looking, and awards an array of points (or takes away) depending on choice, situation, circumstances. In the end of the game, a procedurally generated description of your character and you experience will make a broad psychological profile of you or rather your decisions within the game world.
So imagine that every single decision you make, has a context sensitive amount of points it awards within the HEXACO range. Say you kill a dog because you were nearly starving, yes that's a -20 on Sensitivity.
But imagine that same dog, is actually your own dog that saved your life and you were hanging out a lot with. Well, then it's a different story, it's not -20, it's -55 Sensitivity if you decide to kill it.
This is actually a simplified example since almost every single decision influences a range of variables within the HEXACO range. Some a lot, some very subtly. But if you consistently chose those subtle variables and made a one-off major hit on say Sensitivity, overall you'd still be pretty sensitive.
The game looks at the overall experience and awards smart context points.
Testing the personality engine
This was about the broad concept of the HEXACO system applied within a single choice, but what about how the final analysis takes into account your unique playthrough experience?
Well it does that too. We don't get to deserve the adjective "Beast" easily.
What I did was I made an autoplayer that selects through choices and plays the game superfast, and many times while generating a detailed file of the playthrough. The autoplayer sacrificed his time and effort to play the game some 1,000 times. We also use the autoplayer to test for bugs but that's another story.
The data from those hundreds of playthroughs is run through an excel file and we analyze the data of specific ending experiences. So when the HEXACO system says in the end that the character has had a grueling experience but has surpassed the challenges and crushed them beneath his feet, it certainly wouldn't say that if you happened to have a fairly peaceful, danger avoiding experience right?
By analyzing this, we can know that the specific ending of when you... wait. I can't tell you the ending. Let's invent a bad example then.
If you decided to always face danger head first, but your unique playthrough was filled with safe situations, you can't really test your fearlessness too much right? So the maximum of fearlessness wouldn't be that high.
But if you went through the most excruciating situations and came up on top, well... You deserve to be called "The beast" and have a shit ton of fearlessness points.
That's a bit of preview of how context sensitivity works for specific branch experiences. We want to do this right, so OCD like attention to detail is a necessity.
Hope you enjoy this aspect of the game and try the different directions this game could go before you consider it finished.
Kind regards Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov Developer, Misery Development Ltd.
It’s been way too long since our last update, and we are sorry for that.
It is our goal to remain informative and transparent during development, and it is due time for us to bring you some more news and insight.
These past couple of months have been very hectic for everyone actively engaged in the project development. But we are past that now, and making solid progress at a good pace, here in the new year.
We are still working on the game with an exhausted budget, so everything from this point is still done as an investment into the game completion, and because we want to see it come to fruition and completion as much as you do.
WHATS GOING ON NOW
Now, we are merging all the assets, while optimising the methods to do so.
Our programmer Damjan has, yet again, built a faster, more flexible and manageable data core, that undoubtedly will reduce the risk of errors, typos, etc. And when it comes to data insertion for the game engine, it runs smoother than ever before. Refactoring, bug fixes, simplifications make future work much easier than before. So we got that.
HEXACO parameters are now being defined for every choice in the game (counting more than 1,000 different choice actions for the whole game). This task is as fun as it is time consuming, but the result of this is going to very interesting, and we can’t wait to see what we are going to be portrayed like ourselves, once we get to play the game.
All choices in the game will ultimately help to define your character and personality, but many choices have an impact on the story itself, and all the choices that are generated on that specific path.
There are 32 possible endings, story-wise, but your end game Character Analysis can potentially be very different from someone else who got the very same ending.
The ingame GPS feature has been expanded with a new, extra effect that comes into play as you progress in the game. It is a functionality glitch of multiple levels and progressively worsening stages. Here’s a short screen recording just to give you an idea of what it looks like now, at a severely critical level:'
It feels like we are building much comfort to start looking at potential release dates soon.
For now it is still too risky to announce anything concrete, but we see it highly likely that the near future will bring some solid ground for these matters.
So, we are a small team here, passionately devoted to the completion of our first standalone video game. Is there any particular aspect or topic that you would like to see more of?
We would be happy to form an update on that, and elaborate with more insight.
Again, we want to express our gratitude for the patience and understanding for this project.
We will post another update soon.
Editing is done! 126 chapters fully edited by Glen and Gary Johnson to uniform the style and synchronize the narrative, which is a cooperative work by a handful of authors as you know.
To give you an idea of the quantity of text that we’ve processed we made this insight of just one chapter:
That’s just one chapter and we have 126 of those.
This is a huge task completed and another great step on the way towards completion.
Our next big task is to merge all the assets of SFX, GFX, player choices and scenes properly with the text. This will be done mainly by our programmer Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov, who’s skills and experience with programming have only grown during the months that we’ve worked on the game.
Another Update will be composed when we have more to show and tell about the completion of the game.
Thank you for sticking with us, and encouraging us to keep on going!
We couldn’t have done it without your support!
The text editing is full steam ahead and we have now covered two thirds of everything.
That’s more than 700 pages of text that we can cross off our list.
Less than 300 pages more to go…
For the editing phase we are not just correcting commas and spelling errors. We are looking at every phrase and line and rewriting some of them, polishing others, while making sure that lore and branching is well aligned overall. This is a job that requires focus, determination and patience. The Johnson brothers are doing an awesome job on this!
A large majority of chapters are also trimmed down in this phase. Trimmed down significantly.
We have established a technical guideline that will ensure that the reader will never face more than 1.000 words of text before some sort of fiction interaction is required. Based on feedback and tests we have found that this rule will maintain a good balance between the novel format and choice based interaction while playing.
VISUAL CONTENT BOOST
In other news we have a huge load of quality urbex (abandoned urban exploration) photography donated to the game from Marcin Trojanowski through his Urbi et urbex project. He is devoting time and passion to capture some truly magnificent abandoned locations that fit well into our game and vision. Just recently Marcin has sent us the first batch of HQ photography and we will be diving into the drive and explore the data in the coming weeks.
Here’s a glimpse of some of the urban exploration documentation by Marcin Trojanowski. While these images cannot be considered spoilers for the game, they definitely serve to give you some insight of some the visuals that you can expect from the final product. Looks attractive, doesn't it?
While we’re initiating the editing phase of the fiction, we would like to share with you the role of our Science & Ecology Advisor for The Seed, Joe Barron. As we’ve said before, we categorize The Seed as ‘hard sci-fi’ with a strong basic formula of believable and realistic design.
We have many good back and fourths with him about crucial aspects of the balance of nature, the chemistry, biodiversity etc and we've thoroughly incorporated his remarks throughout the game. He's been our main go-to guy for every aspect that needed a more meticulous sciency set of eyes to check and make sure it's grounded in good old reality.
The best way to present his role to you we thought it would be in the form of an interview, so here we go. The interview was conducted by our programmer Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov.
1. Do you know of any other games that have an ecological advisor or give this much attention to such an aspect of the lore?
Joe - This is definitely my first official position like this. I saw the open call to writers and got excited. I couldn’t write a story to save my life, but I saw an opportunity to use my knowledge of science and ecology to help with this project.
A bit about myself though. I am a junior at Cornell University studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I currently manage my own lab here studying quantitative population dynamics of salamanders, which is a fancy way of saying “How many salamanders do I have and what happens to them?”
During the summers I work for the United States Geological Survey as a field technician, helping to survey National Parks for amphibians and diseases that affect them. I would by no means claim to be an expert on all things ecology and science, but my experience in the field and my ability to read a scientific paper without falling asleep comes in handy.
2. Without going into details and spoilers, what do you personally think of the world of the Seed?
Joe - Without a doubt – the seed is one of the grittiest settings I have ever seen. With every other post apocalyptic game out there, there’s some aspect of hope. Some goal that you have a chance of completing.
You rarely doubt that humanity will overcome the apocalypse and begin anew. In The Seed, it's hard even to think how humanity will begin again when your character is eating canned dog food just to stay alive. In this game you don’t feel like there’s a war for survival, the war has already happened, and you’re just unfortunate enough to be left behind.
3. How do fictional worlds, be it written fiction, videogames or movies, usually cover this aspect? Is there enough attention given to the hard science behind their worlds?
Joe -Unfortunately not very often. I mostly see nowadays that many games simply focus on making “cool” and “badass” creatures and locations, without giving much of a thought on the underlying ecology or biology of it all. Really these places just often serve as “eye candy” or just some new thing to shoot at. I’m not saying that’s inherently a bad thing, it plays into the type of game you’re making of course.
Especially in open world games though, it all just feels sterile to me when they do that, they don’t seem like living worlds, just collections of set pieces. In a game like The Seed, which is all about struggling to survive in a strange world, you must give more thought into making a world that makes sense.
When you do that, it opens up so many ways for the player to not only use skills like combat or stealth, but knowledge of the world and crafty science to survive another day. I’ve had the pleasure of playing a few games like that and it’s so much fun, and makes for some wild stories. I really hope what the writers are making will be able to capture that feeling.
4. How much of an impact do you think games have to promote correct science to the wider public?
Joe - This is a great question, I think we’re coming to a point now where video games are starting to influence people as much as a great book or movie. I really feel that the strength of video games is that you, the player, are making the actions, and that really has an impact on shaping people’s interests. It’s the difference between reading about plants in a book and growing one yourself, the latter will have a much bigger impact on you. Survival mechanics and crafting are great ways where you can put in some simple, concrete science and make a player learn some skills. I’ve mentioned before how important science should be to a setting, but adding it to the mechanics could really have an impact.
The bottom line is that video games can impact us because we are making the actions, we are influencing the plot and the world around us. I feel video games could totally use that strength to foster creative thinking, and show players the value of skills besides fighting people.
5. Have you ever played a videogame where you were surprised to the level of detail and attention they gave in terms of ecological coherency? If yes, which games were they?
Joe -Whenever I play a rogue-like or a similar ACII based game, (Dwarf Fortress is an example) I’m always blown away at the amount of sheer detail they all have. In some cases even the most mundane animal has an AI pattern and interacts with other animals, which leaves me absolutely awestruck! Of course, those games can quickly get overwhelming, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Dwarf Fortress last more than a few immigrant waves… So the challenge is bringing that level of detail to more accessible genre, without making the genre less accessible. I think S.T.A.L.K.E.R. had a bit of that, with dogs or other mutants getting caught in anomalies and the like. These simple random events really made the zone feel more alive.
6. Is there any way to make videogames pay more attention to the internal scientific consistency of their worlds? Any ideas?
Joe - I think it would have to come down to the very first steps, like the initial design document. I love reading Pen and Paper settings because they usually have very interesting ecologies! They always are sure to establish where the creatures are found, what they forage, and any special attributes that set them apart. In addition, really good settings will go in depth to each region, and lay out their ecosystems and weather patterns. All that in addition to the local culture. I’m happy to say I saw much attention to detail in the seeds design!
I guess that’s where I came in too. It's important to consider how everything works in the desolate version of earth in The Seed, because everything has changed. The designers and I had to consider everything from the soil, the weather, and even the air quality. The amount of detail we go into with this world helps us truly imagine and experience what survival in this world is like. I think it really sets this game apart from others.
7. To any world builders out there, creating hard science fiction, what would be your first advice? Where do they usually make the most mistakes?
Joe - There’s two things to always keep in the back of your mind when making a world with a realistic ecology. One, everything exists for a reason: natural selection is a very powerful tool for shaping the world the way it is. In a way, making a good ecology is like making a good character in fiction. In the way you would ask yourself: Why is this character doing this? What are his motivations?
You should be asking yourself: Why does this plant/animal have this? What is it used for? This plays into my other point too: nothing exists by itself in nature. One might say ecology is the study of the relationships between organisms in nature. When you’re making a world, nothing should be in a vacuum. You should ask yourself how this plant/animal affects the world around it, how it shapes the world, and especially how it affects people!
Thinking this way not only makes worlds feel so much more dynamic and realistic, it greatly enhances the quality of the setting. So much of culture is born around the places people occupy, and a well thought out ecology will help give way to a well thought out culture. It’s a bottom-up sort of quality control.
8. What are your favourite published videogames in any category?
Joe -Oh man I could drone on here, but I’ll keep myself under control. I would say my all-time favorites are Fallout: New Vegas and the Mount and Blade series. In general, I absolutely adore old RPGs such as Arcanum and survival games such as NEO Scavenger and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (of course!).
9. We still see a lot of casual mistakes and improbabilities inserted in regards to living organisms and the balance in the worlds they inhabit in video games and movies. Since it's very safe to say you are heavily familiar with the topic at hand, when you see this in a fictitious world, does it ruin your entire experience?
Joe - It's all dependent on the type of game and story telling. Of course I do not expect a linear shooter game to have a fantastically deep ecology, but good storytellers are able to give me just “a taste” to be infinitely curious about the world around me, but not too much that I can start poking holes in things. The Metro series and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series are great at tickling that curiosity.
The more open world the game is, the more these inconsistencies bother me. They just feel dead, and not in the fun “The Seed” way either. I imagine board meetings where designers are making a forest. It would be “Well, Forests need trees, big predators, and I guess bushes to harvest.” The trees provide the background, the predators the enemy, and the bushes the resource the player wants. What a sterile world! Do forests only have wolves and blueberry bushes? According to almost all of the survival games I’ve played – yes that’s correct.
This is a formula that’s so easy to fix its inexcusable. All one must do is take a step back and see how things connect, and why animals and plants exist the way they do.
10. Thank you Joe for this interview and we are honoured that you took the time to answer in such a detailed and deliberate way.
PS - we would love to hear your thoughts after reading this interview!