So there I was, spending my days juggling with megalithic spreadsheets, pivot tables, arcane formulae and Asylum texts, when it hit me: is this worth it? The amount of passionate effort we've been investing on this game is nothing short of obsessively psychotic by now, but the question remains whether the epic work is going to make any difference when all is said and done. So I took a moment off my spreadsheet to compare the different versions of Asylum over the years, delving into my Projects folder, then the Archives folder, then the Backups one, the More one, the Old one, Older, VeryOld, Ancient, ThisFolderShouldNotExist, YouHaveReachedAnAlternateReality, etc. By the time my path length had surpassed the 255-character limit imposed by Windows and the system crashed, I had found the very first prototype of the game when our engine was called Kinesis and the company name was Darknetic. It felt like opening the contents of a time capsule left to us by a quondam civilization that could not survive the ravages of time.
Yet I kept going through our prototypes, WIPs and alphas until I reached last year's version currently available to you, our Kickstarter backers, on Steam which is based on Unity. And I was literally embarrassed. I looked at our current version, then again at the previous one, and I was like "no way". I had forgotten just how unpolished it looked. I almost feel like saying sorry. Seriously! While a solid progress from our earlier efforts, that was still a far cry from the game we've been promising. Backers keep telling me that Asylum looks great based on the Steam version, to which I reply "you have no idea!".
So here's what we're going to do: I'm going to briefly show you, based on the first location, some of the changes that Asylum has experienced over the years. There are four distinct incarnations of the game, the last one being the secretive massive update that will be revealed soon. You still (should) have access to the Steam version; make sure you take another look if you want to, because that one will be taken offline soon. I don't want to look at it ever again. In the next playable update — exclusive to Kickstarter backers, of course — you will experience the drastically enhanced and undeniably sexy visual and audio effects as well as the refined interface, but also the narrative content of the game (which hasn't been seen in any form yet). I'm agog over the current status of the game. There's that univocally Scratches vibe reigning in every aspect of Asylum, even though its visage is light years ahead. But is this worth it? Hell, yeah! A million times yes!
For now, please join me in this quick retrospective.
Admittedly, Asylum has faced drastic changes during the years, but we never did a proper comparison between its many incarnations. This first set of captures date back to early 2012, well before the playable teaser was released and our in-house engine was called Kinesis:
Rather plain looking and definitely too grainy and rough, something we fixed for the teaser. However, the interface was still strongly reminiscent of Scratches, with no direct control. This was a major complain about the teaser, which we eventually fixed. The sky effects were still nowhere to be seen.
The next set was produced from the latest code of Dagon around 2014, before we made the switch to Unity:
A subtle but noticeable improvement (make sure you click to see the high resolution screenshots). Less grainy, more lifelike. A bit too bright perhaps. Certainly, lots more work was done in the game after two years, but the visuals still remained flat. And still no sky effects.
This set is taken directly from the version currently uploaded to Steam, based on Unity:
A marked improvement. Free from the shackles of our limited engine, we were able to include more nifty stuff in the game: the post-processing of our locations is considerably stronger, the animated sky (a staple feature of Scratches) was a much overdue addition, and the full 3D rendering of the journal brought a whole new dimension to Asylum— err, pun intended.
However, this version is still very rough around the edges: plain-looking and oversized cursors, the rendering of subtitles is awfully uneven, skies not very convincing, and lots of moiré patterns everywhere. Moiré occurs when textures are too sharp and become aliased, producing a strange flickering effect when there's motion in the game. Truly a work not suitable for a full public release.
The next set of captures, though... This one, which I have right here, is a whole different affair:
We finally nailed the color grading and post-processing of locations. If it looks overly dark, check out the full resolution screenshot (in any case, you will be able to fine tune the brightness in the game). Remember, since most our graphics are pre-rendered in 2D, it takes a lot of work to make them look consistently good in the 3D game world. But wait, check out the current sky:
Holy clouds, Batman! That looks gorgeous... and rather ominous too! Note how the 2D parts of the location (the treeline, the building) are seamlessly integrated with the 3D sky. Also note how certain regions seem to have more volume, especially the overgrown bushes. But most importantly, the location has just about the right amount of grain, contrast, and additional effects such as vignetting and chromatic aberration — big no-nos in the game industry if you ask around, but very effective if properly used. Since we were always aiming for that vintage 70's horror movie style in Asylum, the look finally feels like it's just right.
There are several other features and changes which you're not seeing — yet! You seemed to like the "look and click" interface that we debuted on Unity, but on the Steam version is imprecise and inelegant, with several cursors filling the screen and clicks not being detected properly. I'm happy to confirm that the interface is working as it should now: it's smooth and sexy, and 100% ready to comfortably play Asylum on the big screen, say, with a Steam Link or similar. More about this soon!
There's still more to show and tell, and I'm sure you must have questions, so let's get back to this next month with (hopefully) the new playable build. For sure I will be posting videos soon. Screenshots are all fine and dandy, but wait till you see Asylum 2016 in motion. Wait till you see how the storyline unfolds and a how a big gamble we took in this regard has paid off. All the pieces of this production have fallen into place.
In the meantime, remember that you have access to our Trello boards which I'm periodically updating and amending with comments.
Clawing at the 10th. anniversary
This month Scratches became 10 years old. I know, I couldn't believe it myself, but there you have it: ten long years since it was first released (technically, we're talking about the English release, since Germany got the game a few weeks earlier). It's unreal when you think how much time has passed, and still how Scratches manages to attract new attention and prompt passionate discussions. It was supposed to be a quaint adventure for hardcore fans of the genre! I would have never thought the game would become the cult hit it is today. Truly, I remain baffled by its unexpected success, especially since, looking back, it had some seriously rough edges.
But something definitely worked, that "Scratches vibe" I was talking about before, so I invite you to discover with me what was that special ingredient that turned it into such a distinct game. I know I'm going to regret this because I suck when giving speeches or presenting stuff, but here goes nothing:
It all began with an innocent question on Twitter following the announcement of the anniversary and the reaction was overwhelming. Apparently people are eager to see a livestream of the game with a developer's commentary, so I figured 'what the heck, let's do this'. It will be a huge mess for sure, but hopefully you will enjoy it. I promise to keep lacerating screaming and spasmodic gestures to a bare minimum. I also promise to provide insightful comments on the production of the game, as well as secrets and trivia you may have never heard of.
Stay tuned to my Twitch channel here: https://www.twitch.tv/agustincordes/profile
If you can't make it, don't worry, the video(s) will be posted to YouTube afterwards. There could be brand new footage of Asylum displayed! Whatever happens, I think it should be fun enough. See you there!
Thanks again for reading and hope you have a great weekend. Love you all, see you soon!