Hello humans, humanoids, and not-so-human beings! I'm your deranged host, as usual. This is an odd timing for an update which I prefer to send on Fridays, so that you have enough time during the weekend to read it. In this case, I wanted to send the update on Thursday, to let you know as soon as possible about the launch of Serena. I couldn't. I tried to sit down and write it yesterday, and still couldn't. Over the past two days my life has been sucked into a vortex of notifications, chats, and non-stop forum discussions. There's dozens of red dots on my phone begging for my attention — hell, even Foursquare is trying to tell me something. Yes, I could have sent a few random words but you deserve more, and I didn't want to babble incoherences (not more than usual, anyway). Let me take you through this curious project Serena, tell you what it means for Asylum, and why it's causing some huge waves on the Internet, far more than our wildest expectations. And be sure to read my special announcement for your backers down below!
A Disturbing Gift For Fans Of Adventure Games
To be clear, Serena was a standalone project with no relation to Asylum. It was put together in under two months, and the reason of such celerity was the incredibly smooth collaboration between dozens of fans and developers of adventure games. It's based on a very old idea of mine that originally was meant to showcase Dagon, but it became much more than that. The whole story is long and has been told in great detail on this article by Kotaku, so it doesn't make sense to repeat it here. Just let me tell you how happy I am about how this project came to be, and that adventure fans are the best. Like, the absolute damn best in the whole game industry.
Essentially a collaborative effort, Serena is meant to be a no-nonsense gift to the adventure game community. It's FREE as in FREE HORROR — no registration, no micropayments, no ads, and certainly no evil curses concealed (at least not last time I checked). Huge props must be given to the entire team:
We couldn't have finished this game without the invaluable work of Jan Kavan, famed creator of J.U.L.I.A. and awesome friend. He essentially programmed Serena all by himself, edited and post-processed well over 500 lines of dialogue in two nights, and created some amazing music for the game. He also gave me a big bottle of Becherovka in last Gamescom, and that's why I love him (in addition to enjoying his surreal sense of humor).
Props to our lead artist Pablo Forsolloza who created the haunting cabin with its dreamy and hazy atmosphere. Serena is a short game, but you could swear that you spend a lifetime stumbling into memories of broken dreams and echoes of a failed relationship inside that cabin. If you liked the graphics, then Pablo has close to one hundred rooms in store for you in Asylum sporting a similar mood and style. Also a shout-out to Juan Caratino, another daring member of the Senscape team, who did some additional work in the graphics, particularly some of the darkest secrets in the game.
The writing team did one hell of a job too. Many are saying that Serena is the most emotional game they've ever played, and that really gives goosebumps to all of us. Simo Sakari Aaltonen deserves the major credit here: this talented fellow and staunch supporter of adventure games wrote letters, an actual poem of equal beauty and despair, and hundreds of comments. The mood of the game owes much to Simo and his sensibility. Then Frederik Olsen and Troels Pleimert offered some lines of dark introspection and raw energy like few games have seen. You might recognize them as notorious fans of Space Quest and SpaceVenture, so check out the Space Quest Historian podcast and Vohaul Strikes Back for another sample of their work. I also did a good chunk of the writing, trying to depict a haunted and damaged man in a very similar style to Asylum.
Speaking of Space Quest, I can't but praise the work of legendary ex-Sierra designer and all-around nice guy Josh Mandel who gave the performance of his lifetime in Serena. That is, until we put him through the most gut-wrenching imaginable situations in Asylum. Poor Josh, he has no idea what's coming... Serena also features a cameo by adventure game darling and Guy from Andromeda Scott Murphy (hi, Scott!). Rumors that I'm secretly in love with Scott are slightly exaggerated. And while we're discussing the acting, massive congratulations (and a big thank you!) to Sarah Wilson (aka Pushing Up Roses) who played Serena. She's a very popular video producer who my favorite Let's Play of Scratches, and this was her first smashing performance. We hope you enjoy her work as much as we did, and please consider supporting her in Patreon.
More congratulating is in order to the composers of the highly memorable soundtrack: Brandon Blume who did the opening piece for Serena and previously worked on Himalaya Studios' Al Emmo and the Lost Dutchman's Mine, Jan Kavan again with his mood piece reminiscent of Dario Argento's Suspiria, as well as the classical and very chilling requiem, and my brother Pablo Cordes for his brooding and tragic tune which is actually a reject from Asylum. Frederik Olsen also created a disturbing mood piece for the game. We're considering releasing the soundtrack separately with liner notes.
Much love to the admirable Jenny "Estirdalin" Pattison from Infamous Quests who created the ever-changing Serena's picture and the Skin Quest magazine which is totally becoming a reality. Jenny's talent is anything but wee, and you can check out a sample of her work on her Facebook page. Mike Morrison from the Prominence team and Lukas Medek who works with Jan contributed with additional artwork for Serena.
Finally, many thanks to Ben Chandler (yes, THAT Ben Chandler) and Laney Berry (yes, THAT Laney Berry) for the seriously disturbing paintings featured in the cabin. The amount of talent in this game is making me feel all dizzy. Another shout-out to over 30 fans, including some of you backers of Asylum, who provided us with book titles and helped testing the game. And one big, heartfelt hug to the real Serena, who essentially made this game happen.
By the slimy appendages of Yog-Sothoth, already over 1000 words and I haven't even told you about the surprise news! Just let me finish by saying that it has been a huge pleasure to work on Serena with so many friends — it's possibly the first project of its kind and seems to be getting industry-wide recognition. The reception has been mind-blowing to say the least, and I couldn't be happier to see such a subtle story, essentially an intimate look into a broken relationship, having such a huge impact on Steam.
Before you raise your tentacle and accuse me of not working on Asylum, let me say that the vast majority of my time devoted to the project was to iron out some kinks in Dagon and greatly improving the "seamless narrator" technique that we'll be using. Engine-wise, all of the work is extremely useful for Asylum — there were many bugs (we still have some) and a few features needed to be implemented. The release of Serena was quite smooth with no major problems considering that tens of thousands of folks have been playing the game. We do have some issues on MacBooks with retina displays and Windows XP which will be fixed shortly. Linux is working amazingly well too: I spent a week alone studying Steamworks, how to integrate our games with the platform, and especially how to properly distribute Linux builds. All of this has also been immensely useful for Asylum, so I will be uploading an alpha and distributing keys to VIP backers shortly. I don't expect to release Linux builds through any other platform but Steam — honestly, their solution is hands down the best and has saved me a lot of headaches.
I will give you an in-depth look into the seamless narrator technique later. Basically, one of my biggest qualms with adventures is the constant repetition of feedback which spoils the immersion, and at the same time is a missed opportunity for stronger narrative. In Serena, every item has its own storyline and the comments of the protagonist are a faithful reflection of the current mood in the game. Similarly, the "unrequested thoughts" are used to fill in the gaps and provide hints to players. I've been wanting to use this approach since Scratches (it was very rudimentary back then) and it will be a big feature in Asylum. All this time I've been trying to explain how the game will do this and that, but now with Serena I feel like I can say "Asylum will do precisely that".
Quite a bit more of work can be reused, including the approach to language files devised by Jan, but this is already the longest update and I STILL haven't told you the news...
One of the most cool things about Serena is how many fans and friends gave us book titles. My request was simple: it can be a funny, serious, even personal book title that has a meaning to you only, and the results have been terrific. The bookcase in Serena is a joy to read, and it's amazing how one book title can say so much about each personality. Be sure to check out all the shelves and see if you can recognize some celebrities and friends — there's much wit and introspection in that dusty bookcase.
So, I know I'm going to regret this, but here goes: we have a huge library in Asylum and we already worked out the system, so all Permanent Visitors and above ($150+) have earned their spot with a personal book title. Additionally, we will give away another 100 spots for the rest of backers (we'll see how soon). So yeah, that's at least 200 book titles in Asylum as a way to say 'thank you' for your patience and bearing with us while we complete the game. I can't wait to read your fictional books and immortalize them in the shadowy corners of the massive Hanwell library.
Until next time, and be sure to tell us your thoughts about Serena!