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A psychological horror adventure inspired by H. P. Lovecraft and set in a massive, decaying mental institute.
A psychological horror adventure inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and set in a massive, decaying mental institute. Currently in alpha status and being tested by our courageous backers!
A psychological horror adventure inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and set in a massive, decaying mental institute. Currently in alpha status and being tested by our courageous backers!
3,169 backers pledged $119,426 to help bring this project to life.

Monday I’m In Love


No, you don’t need to adjust your system clocks: I’m sorry to disappoint you but it’s actually Monday, not our usual update Friday. For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to send this thorough piece and (I swear) every time something happened that prevented me from putting the final touches. So I thought to myself “hey, it’s not like Fridays are sacred or something”, and decided to simply post the update whenever it made sense. It was a very liberating experience.

Anyway, we’re finally here, but first some briefs comments about upcoming plans: things have been rather quiet outside the Kickstarter world Asylum-wise, and while interest on the game remains as strong as ever as signaled by tons of likes or retweets every time we show signs of life, we’re getting ready to resume serious promotional efforts. One beautiful and memorable day Asylum will be finished, and that day is definitely getting closer.

Well, it turns out there are other social networks besides Facebook and Twitter, and actual people visit them. Unbelievable! For example, our first foray into where anyone can ask us a question about Scratches, Asylum, horror or anything that comes to mind, has been amazingly well received with already dozens of insightful answers and more piling up. Similarly, our launch in SoundCloud has been a sound success (haha, see what I did there?).

And wait, there’s more: I’m putting the finishing touches to our Tumblr blog where Pablo and myself will be posting more regular, small tidbits about the development of the game, as well as a Pinterest account that will blow your mind with never-seen-before concept art, our collection of references that we used to build the Hanwell Mental Institute, new screenshots, and fan art. Speaking of which, please, feel free to send us your creations (be it Scratches, Asylum or Serena) as I’m going to feature everything we receive. We’re also doing Instagram because what the heck.

There’s a solid schedule of updates readied including new materials and interesting things to discuss. To sum it up, this will become the extent of our social kingdom, so be sure to update your bookmarks and stay tuned:


Oh right, I still have to write the actual update.

*drinks coffee*

So, let me explain…

Why is Asylum taking so @$#& long?!

The really short answer boils down to two aspects: first, and I know I’ve said this a gazillion times, Asylum is a large and complex game. I admit we overdid it; its development over the years has been a carefully controlled but risky endeavor, and without this Kickstarter I sincerely have no idea where we would be now. It’s not just the sheer size of the Hanwell Mental Institute but the detail we’re investing in every location, in addition to high quality characters (this in particular has been a major factor in our constant delays).

Second, the implementation of the game. You see, Asylum has very curious requirements: the node-based presentation provides plenty of advantages, especially the ability to show super-crisp and immersive graphics at the expense of free roaming (which an adventure rooted in exploration and slow-paced gameplay doesn’t need). Artwork takes a helluva time, but we don’t have to worry much about polygons, textures, spare use of lights, etc. Whereas graphics can be produced without major headaches, the programming side can be a big burden: for instance, and this is often the case, a same room or location can have several nodes and repeated hotspots. There may be an object that can be seen or manipulated from several angles, which means recreating the hotspots for every occurrence. Extrapolate that to dozens and dozens of locations, minding our stubborn desire to provide as much interaction as possible, and the amount of work needed grows real fast.

At first my intention was to reproduce the same approach to Scratches: make a dedicated engine that addresses and simplifies this particular workflow, as well as maximizing the performance of the game. This was back in 2009 when Unity was nowhere close to the juggernaut it is today and the average computer owned by an adventure game fan wasn’t very powerful. As development of Asylum progressed, it became clear that the needs of the game were far more demanding than Scratches, especially for the inclusion of NPC’s (which Scratches cleverly avoided thanks to the premise of the story). Just as well, initial considerations such as performance were no longer a concern. We’ve discussed the reasoning behind the engine switch at length, and why it makes far more sense now to continue developing Asylum with Unity.

However, the big shift of paradigms in the implementation meant a complete rethinking of the project: when you program a “standard” 2D or 3D adventure, you have no choice but to rely on visual tools to aid you in the process. In general, you must place the background (2D) or scene geometry (3D), set the areas that can be navigated, and define interactive regions. It’s a simple workflow and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel to automatize this process. But node-based is a whole different story: you have an average of 3-4 nodes per location and each node contains six textures. In addition, nodes may contain an average of 4-5 hotspots each. And to make matters even trickier, I’m writing several replies when a hotspot is an object that can be examined — at least six different lines. Think about that.

When producing our own engine, it made plenty of sense to program the game logically: we don’t need to “see” the full node to place its textures and define hotspots as it could be done programmatically via scripting. For this task, our implementation of Dagon was very useful, extending the philosophy and features in SCream (the engine behind Scratches). But, as Unity provided better features and removed lots of hurdles out of the equation (porting, rendering, testing, etc), logical programming stopped making sense. The worst drawback in Dagon has always been the lack of visual tools, which take much time to produce, but we could get away with scripting alone the way the engine was devised. My first attempt in Unity was to replicate this model (combining the scripting in Dagon with Unity’s features). It wasn’t very successful: Dagonity was relying too much on unsupported plugins with undesirable overhead (for example, Lua interfaces) and lots of hacking; I had to pause and think about the consequences, because it’t not just programming the game — there’s also a question of stability and maintaining the code.

Moreover, whereas it’s complicated and time-consuming to produce visual tools for a standalone engine, it becomes trivial and painfully easy to adapt the Unity editor for your needs. I’ll be showing some of the things we did in an upcoming update, but bottom line is: we had to go from one extreme to another, from pure logical programming to a complete visual toolset based on Unity.

*drinks more coffee*

Bits and pieces

Now, let’s put the content of Asylum in numbers. It’s not unheard of for an indie developer to spend 4-5 years in a game alone. In fact, I keep hearing about such cases. In our case, it’s getting closer to six years now, which may sound like an awful lot, yet it’s still understandable given the scope of the game and polish we’re investing in it. I’ll try to measure the production in terms of wo/man hours:

When it comes to locations, each one took an average of 1 month. We have about 90 of these in the game, and keep in mind a location can mean a small place such as the janitor’s closet as well as a 10-node long hallway or the large courtyard. 90 months of work divided into two modelers leaves us with around 3.5 years just for one aspect of the game. Sadly, the budget gets increasingly more prohibitive the more people you hire, meaning it’s far cheaper to take more time.

Then there’s the characters: we have 10 in total appearing on screen, 4 of which must interact with the protagonist and have dozens of small animations and additional detail. For the 6 secondary characters, it’s been around 1.5 months, and the primary 4 closer to 3 months; we almost have 2 more years here.

Other time-consuming aspects include the cutscenes, the major one being the intro which took 2 months, with another month for the conclusion of the game and possibly two other months for additional video. See how months start to add up real fast? And that’s not even considering the time I’ve been investing in programming, research, planning, design, writing and boring management. There’s also music, sound effects, promo materials such as trailer, etc.

Recently this article published by Polygon caught my attention. No need to open the link, I’ll just tell you: $80,000. Being extremely conservative, about $46,500. I don’t intend to claim our characters are on the same level as such AAA productions, but think about that for a second: we have four full-fledged characters, plus six additional secondary characters, as well as several generic inmates and our Unique Inmate that plays an important role in the game. To put all this in perspective, the entire budget for Asylum (including this Kickstarter) still doesn’t reach $200k.

Enough excuses — I’m fully aware of the endless delays and I still owe you a complete status report of the project (coming up in the next update). I absolutely understand how frustrating it is to wait for so long for a single game, especially after you already bought it. There’s nothing more I can say to make up for these delays except that we’re very sorry, that it’s been a royal pain to plan ahead and commit to deadlines while trying to deliver the unique horror experience we promised. At the same time, I hope this update provided an insightful look on the nature of the project and a better understanding of our perspective. The good news is that every decision we’ve taken has been the right one: from forgoing publishers to migrating to Unity, every milestone in the project has been one step further up the ladder. The production of Asylum has been a learning (and revealing) experience, and the game in its current form, with all its bells and whistles and top-notch quality, is a result of an erratic but adventurous road and your incredible support.

Comments, questions and insults are always more than welcome. You’ll be hearing from me soon with more tidbits, screenies, soundies, and playable thingies.

*puts the coffee maker to work*


And Now for Something Completely Different…


Hello, my lovelies! This is going to be an atypical update because apparently I talk too much. Or rather, type too much. Some backers—OK, make that one backer[1]—complained about the wall of text in the previous post, and because I strive to please every one of you, here’s a post full of images and barely any words. Seriously, I set the goal to 500 words at most, so I better shut up and get on with it.

Last week Pablo produced a remarkably detailed vintage tape recorder that you find in a seedy office room during your exploration in Hanwell. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that he went as far as simulating a wobbling tape head!

And what you will hear in the tape inserted will be most intriguing…
And what you will hear in the tape inserted will be most intriguing…

Also, for the sole purpose of disgusting you, here's a screenshot of a decomposing cat who didn't survive the dust-laden subterranean corridors beneath the asylum.

Here, kitty kitty… Err, kitty? Kitty!!
Here, kitty kitty… Err, kitty? Kitty!!

Interestingly, that moment was inspired by an actual photograph we saw during our research of abandoned asylums. Charming!

Moving on to more pleasing things, we’ve begun hanging the diplomas for our distinguished staff of the Institute…

Although the glass could use a bit of polishing.
Although the glass could use a bit of polishing.

… and our Register of Patients featuring the loonies inhabiting this accursed location!

Some pretty clever names in there, yo.
Some pretty clever names in there, yo.

Wall of images, wall of papers

We took a while off our crazed schedule to put together a bunch of adorable wallpapers for you. These are fresh out of the oven and feature badass super-high resolution for those fancy modern widescreen monitors and oversized smartphones, so they come in two sizes: one for desktops and another for a wide range of mobile devices. We don’t have one for testing but supposedly the wallpapers should look great on the iPhone 6 Plus with parallax scrolling enabled. Yum!


Asylum Front for Desktop (2560 x 1440)

Asylum Front for Mobile Devices (2662 x 2662)


Asylum Yard for Desktop (2560 x 1440)

Asylum Yard for Mobile Devices (2662 x 2662)

Because we love diversity and know some of you prefer darkness and despair, we rendered an alternative version of the same scenes with a slick blueish tone and many gloomy corners. Only thing missing is the sound of crickets:


Asylum Front (Night) for Desktop (2560 x 1440)

Asylum Front (Night) for Mobile Devices (2662 x 2662)


Asylum Yard (Night) for Desktop (2560 x 1440)

Asylum Yard (Night) for Mobile Devices (2662 x 2662)

We hope you enjoy these exquisite sights! There’s more coming, and we’re working hard on bringing a massive update to the alpha as soon as possible.

Uh oh...
Uh oh...

Charlotte’s Dream 

It’s been a while since I gave a shout-out but this amazing concept by Robert Guiscard truly needs your help. I fell in love with its look and feel reminiscing a long lost Amiga adventure, and the story is darn intriguing to boot.

I mean, look at all that pixelated goodness!

Here’s hoping the project catches fire soon.

Before I go, I wanted to mention something very important. The secret in Asylum is to

[1]: A backer called Riggo.




I only understood you as far as wanting to look.


There is nothing interesting there.


They are sitting expectantly. Maybe you should say something.


I don’t understand that sentence.


[I don’t know the word “stupid.”]


What do you want to say to them?


If you want to scream, please say so.

That was getting too complicated, so I’ll stick to our good old written update format.

Ah, words. I love them, you love them. What would we do without words? We’ve come a long way since the venerable parser in interactive fiction and, even though I mourned its untimely deprecation back in the early 90’s when Legend Entertainment—the company which came up with the absolute best parser system—finally abandoned it, I’ve come to accept the new standard of drastically simplified interfaces. Nowadays players take many things for granted, and how you interact with a game world is one of them—in fact, interfaces are perhaps the most standardized element in the industry today. Admittedly, the less they get on the way, the better it is particularly for a horror game.

We’ve been paying a lot of attention to this in Asylum. The current interface based on your trusty notepad went through several iterations until we settled on its final diegetic incarnation. But we had another issue—as you know, our major roadblock has always been the interaction with the dwellers in Hanwell Mental Institute. It’s crucial for the game and its story that this feels right. Well, I’m happy to say that we’re almost there, and today I’ll tell you the hows and whys.


It’s all about consistency. We went to great lengths to make the environments in Asylum look highly detailed and crystal clear. This monolithic building of horrors has been virtually erected and works great—it’s old news now. However, it’s an advantage that, other than the occasional swinging window pane, or stormy skies, or disgusting swarm of flies circling a chunk of rotten meat, the environments tend to be static. After all, buildings usually stay still most of the time. On the other hand, the characters are organic beings commonly known as humans. And we humans tend to move. A lot.

So it’s been a royal pain to put the quality of characters on the same (or very close) level as the environments. There would’ve been many ways to cop out of this situation, but of course we opted to do it the hard way. I understand now why this type of highly detailed in-game character is usually developed by dozens of people, each with a very specific skill, and with an astronomical budget. Just for one character. This is what we have right now:

 project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

Now this may look interesting, cool even. I know it’s not mind-blowing, but it’s a huge milestone for us. There are several more things we need to do and improve: the animation is still rather stiff and choppy in places. Lenny stares too much and that’s not the idea—he’s a nervous fellow that wants to avoid eye contact. Also, it stills lacks that sort of unique personality a key character should have.

Or maybe he’s already awesome and we’re aiming way high.

This is all especially intimidating once you realize just how many things are happening behind the scenes. Sure, on the surface I just greeted Lenny and simply asked about Hanwell. No big deal, you’ve been doing this in adventures since the day someone put a small leaflet in a mailbox next to a white house. But that small action requires a complete system in place, a carefully exported character with all the corresponding animations along with something called blendshapes for the facial gestures (tons of them, blendshapes everywhere!), plus interactions, events, behaviors, transitions, triggers, and craziness! Mayhem! It’s Hell on Earth, I tell you!

But we still conserve our sanity, or at least enough of it to tell you how it all works. Because there’s another phase of game development that’s rarely discussed yet it’s time-consuming and decisive: research. In software development there’s always a balance between degree of control and speed or ease of use. We tried different approaches to our dialogue system: we had been doing everything from scratch, coding by hand each and every one of the processes that control the character’s behavior: eyes, mouth, gestures, etc. This is mighty useful because we can fine-tune every aspect of his or her behavior, and easily replicate it whenever necessary. However, it quickly became evident that this would take an inordinate amount of time that we no longer have. And it turns out that wasn’t the only issue (because there’s always more issues): even if we completed our highly customized system, then comes the part when we actually have to create the dialogues. Now, if you have simple conversations in mind, that can be a fairly quick process—after all, a common mechanic in games is that you ask a question and the character replies back, meaning that you don’t have to dabble in complicated dialogue trees. But… here comes again… we chose the hard way.

You see, the idea in Asylum is that you don’t ask plain questions but discuss topics. You can talk about something as much as you want until that character doesn’t have anything else to say. However, it could happen that you are discussing something else that enables more feedback about a previous subject. And it could also happen that a character reacts differently to certain subjects when he or she in a specific mood. And it also happens that you if you spend too much time without saying anything, the character loses his or her patience and dismisses you.

Yes, we are officially nuts. But we worked it out.

Enter playMaker. We usually try to rely as little as possible on third-party tools, but playMaker won us over. Briefly, this is an add-on tool for Unity that allows the developer to create something called “finite state machines” or FSMs. The idea is that you define states, actions that govern them, and transitions between them. The above (very) simple screenshot should speak for itself: Lenny says his introduction and then goes to an “idle” state awaiting the player’s input. If the player takes too long, Lenny enters a “timeout” state where he presses the player for more input. The “idle” state is also monitoring the selected topic for discussion.

Imagine doing all that by scripting alone as we were doing with Lua. I love code, but I’m not that crazy. Sometimes you have to draw a line between tinkering and getting things done, and playMaker is an easy way to visualize our character’s behaviors. Without something like it, we’d have to come up with our own graphical tools and we’re not in a position to do that. The interesting thing here is that playMaker is highly customizable, so in reality it’s executing our own hand-coded actions that manipulate the different systems I described before. It’s a good compromise that’s working very well.

The final scheme will be far more complex than what you’re seeing in that screenshot, though: transitions can be global, meaning that asking about any topic could break any state (it’s not wise to place so much responsibility on “idle” anyway). And there’s also the moods—noticed how Lenny’s expression changed twice in that video? Sometimes a mood will last for the duration of a dialogue line, but others will persist for the remainder of the whole dialogue. I know it all sounds like a scary amount of work, but this can be done fairly quickly now that we have all the systems in place.

But wait, there’s even more happening behind the scenes:

That is Unity’s Mecanim, possibly its best feature. It’s a tremendously powerful way to command the animations of a character, attaching them to specific events or behaviors. Based on the video above, this simple system should be self-explanatory, although we still need to add more animations and fine tune all those transitions.

You may be wondering, is all of that worthwhile? You bet! These characters finally feel lifelike, responsive, and they’re a far cry from our initial experiments with pre-rendered graphics. We’re beyond happy with them. I’d have never imagined we’d come this far—and we have to thank you for your patience and support. Soon you’ll be able to have a very interesting conversation with Julia, the first character you meet in the game, in the current alpha build.

Closing time

When there’s good news, there’s always bad news: I don’t want you to panic but we had to close our physical office, and there’s no reason why you don’t need to know. In short, we needed to renew its contract but the proprietor wanted to murder us with the new rent. Blame inflation.

So long, Senscape office! We had a good run.
So long, Senscape office! We had a good run.

It was a good and comfortable spot for us but didn’t make sense to keep it. The whole idea about a second project was precisely to keep the office running with a larger team, but we’re few people now and Asylum is on a stage where it no longer benefits from the dynamics of working together.

Make no mistake, this office was an amazing experience for us: it allowed us to reorganize ourselves, rethink the project, migrate to Unity, complete the entire Hanwell building, finish the intro sequence, characters, and more. It saved us tons of time and we’re working much better now because of it, but the time has come to move on. Looking at the positive side of things, the new circumstances are better for the kind of work I have to do now, which is mostly writing. There are tens of thousands of words already in the script of Asylum (probably as much as Scratches), but I still need to add more dialogues, books and feedback. Me, I prefer quietness and solitude when I write. And perhaps a bottle of Jack Daniels by my side. Yeah, I’m old fashioned.

(actually, I like Old Fashioned’s too)

We do have to thank OKAM Studio, makers of the upcoming and brilliantly looking The Interactive Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizza Boy, for taking Pablo with them who, as far as I understand, hasn’t bitten anyone yet. Unfortunately Pablo didn’t have enough room at home, but OKAM came to save the day. And hey, apparently they brought in someone else too…

Josesito is everywhere.
Josesito is everywhere.

In my next update I’ll be telling you a bit about how we “virtualized” us again, this time using tools such as Slack and Trello to keep track of everything that’s happening in the development of Asylum.

From Hanwell to Blackwood

Speaking of Scratches

*pants, pants*

(must… finish… update)

There’s an ongoing community playthrough in Adventure Gamers. The idea is that people play the game together over several days while posting their impressions of the game, and the organizer invited me to participate with my own input. So, over the past few days, I’ve been providing fun facts and interesting trivia about Scratches. Things like…

The very first image we ever did for the game!
The very first image we ever did for the game!
Early blueprints for the Manor...
Early blueprints for the Manor...
... or an early, brighter take on the lake!
... or an early, brighter take on the lake!

And lots, lots more. Feel free to stop by and join the discussion. Or lurk in the shadows, like the kind of horrors that haunted your nightmares in Blackwood Manor. The kind of horrors you’ll also find inside the Hanwell Mental Institute.

Until next time,


Warden's log, April 17, 2015. I realized this is an actual log and I can't write on wood.


For backers only. If you're a backer of this project, please log in to read this post.

Welcome To The Hanwell Mental Institute


For backers only. If you're a backer of this project, please log in to read this post.