(putting my Jedi powers to work here)
You are going to enjoy this post. You are going click on that heart-shaped button and comment with effusive enthusiasm.
Yeah, that totally should do the trick.
So here's the thing: we had a livestream recently with several backers who attended and my plan was to repost the resulting video as-is. Alas, the resulting video was total crap. That day I had a night of bad sleep, the lightning in my studio was terrible, and we stumbled into several unforeseen technical issues (which have been sorted out since then!). No amount of editing would produce an acceptable video, and you know how I'm a perfectionist who loves surprising you with mind-blowing stuff, except that video was like the complete antithesis of perfect. Rather, it was the most profound depiction of sheer UNperfection.
So I thought to myself "OK, let's up the ante and do a seriously pro gameplay video just for the backers with even more exciting new content, earth-shattering announcements, and thoughtful developer's commentary". And… well, that's taking a while. Perfection wasn't built in a day.
So I decided "OK, let's do a more old school update with words and more words and occasional cool videos to whet the appetite until the omg-this-is-so-awesome-new-gameplay-video" is ready. Which is going to be ready soon, I promise, as well as the new exclusive demo for backers I've been hinting at. You see, I want to show you a good chunk of the game — what it actually feels like playing Asylum and getting into the story, discovering things, exploring the premises, and so. One more step towards that goal was achieved this week as we implemented one of our last major pending things, and today I'm showing you a new feature in the game. Let's talk about…
Because everybody loves reading, right? And reading is an important part of adventure games, especially horror games. Reading was a crucial element in Scratches, in which you spent a considerable amount of time perusing the journals, notebooks and documents left by the previous inhabitants of Blackwood Manor, so it makes sense for us to spend resources on delivering a satisfying reading experience. Of course, good writing is 90% of the job (and I think we got that covered), but we also wanted to make the most out of that remaining 10%. Here's a quick glimpse of what we're doing now:
One of the benefits of introducing real-time 3D elements in the game is that we can allow you, the players, to freely manipulate objects like books. Rotate them, check out every dusty corner and (yes) in the case of books read them. This adds a whole new depth to the experience, truly making it feel like the asylum comes to life. Even better, integration with our pre-rendered graphics remains smooth and seamless:
So much immersion!
But one aspect of Scratches and pre-rendered graphics that was a huge burden in the past was unavoidable iterations in the texts during beta-testing and the many translations we planned. In the old fashioned way, we had to update the graphics on the textures of each page to perform any changes in the text because it was rasterized. Not with real-time 3D, as now the text element is a separate entity from the underlying texture and can be manipulated in runtime.
In short, doing any changes and implementing translations is a simple matter of updating an Excel sheet. Trust me, a far cry from the painful process that was Scratches. And Asylum has a lot more text, so we saved us a lot of headaches with this. Here's an example of a readable book:
Please, note the font is temporary. I'm paying special attention to beautiful typography these days (blame Apple) so we're going to make sure the texts are pleasant to read and representative of their respective authors. Speaking of which, that journal belongs to Dr. Ann Ebersbacher, one of the first you find in Asylum. Here's an interesting excerpt of her musings (proofread pending):
"Rebecca is by far the most intriguing subject: this woman has been a schizophrenic since a young age, featuring a rambling and erratic personality. No family, no social life to speak of. She used to live in the suburbs of Kingsport where she’d roam aimlessly in the streets; your typical town loony. Last year she was viciously raped by two thugs, left heavily beaten and bruised in a damp alley. It’s a miracle she’s still alive; it’s a miracle anyone cared to save her. Sadly, she became pregnant after the attack, which sent her psyche into an even darker downward spiral. Her mind is in a nadir now; she thinks she’s carrying the spawn of the devil and has repeatedly attempted to perform an abortion. A fringe case by any measure, the sort of patient that would’ve received unabashed shock treatment in other institutions, and the perfect subject to test newer, less invasive approaches to mind-healing."
Still not discussing the story, though [evil laughter]
And in case you want to look at them in greater detail, these are the covers of the custom-made previous books:
This is what's taking us so much time right now, putting interesting things to look at in the game. We're going to extend this close-up-and-rotate system to allow you to explore other objects like those books, you know, like the big shots in the industry do with their fancy survival horrors. Except Asylum is totally a pure, unadulterated adventure game.
I know, you want this. We all want it.
Don't be a stranger!
Speaking of which, I want to remind you that besides these updates, you can always stay in touch with us via our team in Trello (often updated weekly) or our brand new forums. These are super easy to navigate now and are enjoying renewed activity. I'm readying a couple of posts for backers only (VIPs, there's also going to be stuff for you as well), so you might want to take a look. Extremely easy to register too, as we support Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (yes, just for the two of you!) and Steam.
And… That's it for today. Still working on the earth-shattering stuff, so for now I beg you to content with the… page-shattering stuff? I don't know what the heck I'm saying anymore, it's too late. I do hope you liked this fine reading material and are anxiously anticipating what we have in store for you, which is even better.
Hope you all have a lovely weekend!
PS: You WILL like this update.
Our chief weapon is horror!... horror and fear... fear and horror... Our TWO weapons are fear and horror... and relentless dread!
But you're probably watching Game of Thrones, or listening to the new Radiohead album, or hanging out with your family depending on your position in time and space, so I'll keep it short and to the point.
Teasing the comeback
It's no secret we've been cooling down the hype and excitement surrounding Asylum, at least until we have a solid release date that we can announce to our fans and press. I think we reached critical hype level when we released our playable teaser many aeons ago, a surprising glimpse into the game that echoed all over the mainstream press and built lots of expectation. And that after releasing a hugely successful trailer and a disturbing series of viral teasers. It may seem like wasted effort by now, but this is the kind of promotion that has allowed us to remain relevant during a lengthy development and build a strong community of fans (including you!). But we need to put our act together, so to speak, and bring renewed attention to Asylum. Which is becoming an uphill battle in nowadays game industry: it's very hard to stand out on Steam, reach the mainstream press (which is only covering a handful of indie games from the vast amount being released), and generally make enough noise in an already noisy market. We need to have a solid plan — releasing a game with a press release and a bunch of tweets doesn't cut it anymore.
So there's going to be a "comeback" of sorts, with a fresh new look for Senscape and new horrifying sights and sounds. A brand new trailer (looking even more gruesome and menacing than our first take) is just one of the surprises we have planned. The original site for Asylum was amazingly well-received back then, with people commenting how it felt like they were already playing the game with its immersive layout. This is getting a long overdue refresh as well, one that I'm sure fans of adventure games will fall in love with. I'll be showing some of these things we're preparing real soon and we're going to need your feedback!
Fortunately, there's still plenty of buzz surrounding the game, even though we're keeping eerily quiet about it. For instance, take this recent article by Bloody Disgusting (bless them) who keep voting Asylum as one of their most anticipated horror games year after year. And if you look at the poll, readers seem to agree! I swear to you, I feel like hiding my head in shame. You can't imagine how much I appreciate this vote of confidence, not just by the press but everybody who's been following the development of the game for years. No excuses left these days... I just mumble a timid "thank you" and get back to work.
For your eyes only
As for a quick rundown on our future plans for Kickstarter backers, we've got you covered. Obviously, you come first. We're going to need a few more weeks of work here before disclosing some big news with you. Even the way I'm going you tell you about it will be fresh and new: I'm arranging a livestream for backers only, which will take place next month. The experiment with the live Scratches playthrough turned out really well, enough that I feel comfortable playing a bit of Asylum live and give you a full status report, as well as answering all your pressing questions. Don't worry, I'll let you know in advance exactly when this is going to happen. Shortly after, the new demo for backers will make its debut. I can tell you the following:
- It's looking positively incredible.
- The improvements in performance are all over the roof. I was worried by some of your reports following the migration to Unity, but I'm happy to say that we've sorted out such issues and the game is running as good as it used to on our standalone Dagon engine. I've just tested it on a modest 11-inch MacBook Air from 2011: super smooth and speedy. In fact, I'm tempted to say it's running faster than ever.
- As I elaborated on our previous update, I wasn't 100% happy with the presentation of the game. We've been tweaking several aspects of the engine, as well as adding more visual animations and effects. The current incarnation of Asylum can tax your latest video card acquisition if you wish to turn on all the bells and whistles, and you're going to try for first time the brand new look and feel of the game.
- Did I mention it's looking ravishingly fantastic?
And that's basically it. Just a bit more patience before we're ready to resume testing this interactive nightmare. We're working very hard to build a game you'll be proud to have backed!
Speak to you soon,
That article by Bloody Disgusting discusses the Lovecraftian connection in Asylum, arguing it seems to be more in terms of atmosphere rather than actual ties to the cosmology created by Lovecraft. I can tell you that there's definite Lovecraftian elements in the game, perhaps even more so than Scratches. Knowledgeable fans of Providence's most famous writer will be especially rewarded by certain narrative twists...
And speaking of Scratches, feel free to check out the complete playthrough with my full developer's commentary. It's rather long (almost four hours!) and may get a bit boring in places, but viewers seemed to have liked it and I'm glad I was able to discuss several aspects of its development — especially secrets and hidden references that were never discussed before.
I'm looking forward to doing the same for the documentary in Asylum, which should be even more revealing!
Apparently, my "short and to the point" is equivalent to roughly a thousand words update. I may be physically unable to keep it shorter and to the pointer than that.
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!