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An epic supernatural horror adventure set in a massive, decaying mental institute. Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, Hammer Films and the atmospheric horror of yesteryear. Coming as soon as we can. We swear.
An epic supernatural horror adventure set in a massive, decaying mental institute. Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, Hammer Films and the atmospheric horror of yesteryear. Coming as soon as we can. We swear.
3,169 backers pledged $119,426 to help bring this project to life.

Monday I’m In Love

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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 Ask.fm 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:

Phew!

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*

—Agustín

Comments

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    1. Agustín Cordes 2-time creator on

      Thank you all for the words of encouragement. We all in the team appreciate them more than you can imagine! If Asylum has suffered so many delays, it's only because we want to deliver a game that will stick with you forever (which is easier said than done).

      A new update is incoming! Thanks again for your patience!

    2. RDP
      Superbacker
      on

      I'm ok waiting, I also believe in your vision of the game.

    3. Missing avatar

      William Matthew Breedlove on

      Late posting as always but I'm with everyone else here. Take your time and polish it up nice. Like Shigeru Miyamoto once said: "A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.”

    4. Fate on

      How about we say, a sound... grounding? :)

    5. TrentJaspar on

      Yeah pretty much +1 to what everybody else is saying. We backed YOU and YOUR vision for Asylum, not a deadline. Do what you gotta do and we'll be here when you're ready. Besides, the vast majority of us have large gaming backlogs to keep us busy. :)

    6. Sector94 on

      don't worry about delays! as long as you keep the updates coming and don't go silent like other less respectable KS projects, most of your backers (if not all of them) will understand and won't blame you for it, quite the opposite actually. I would rather wait and have a good product in the end than a rushed one you felt you had to put out because of some imaginary deadline.

    7. Palindrome Bob-XSF-I'm in AGL589-BG5.22
      Superbacker
      on

      As long as the communication lines keep being used (i.e. you keep us updated regularly) I absolutely don't mind how long it takes. It is quite unheard of in software development on Kickstarter to hit an estimated deadline. Keep doing what you do best and I'll be ready when you're ready. Thank you!
      ### Member of the Pinkerton Road Cavalry ###
      ### Dreamfall Traveller ###

    8. Missing avatar

      Jamie on

      I'm completely okay with how long it is taking. I always hope that games aren't finished early and they have the time to make everything fit together. It is very interesting to know about how long each of these things I remember seeing in updates has taken to finish. I would of had no clue so, thank you. Also thank you for the amazing update here. I'd wager that people who've voiced that they have given up on the game will be back once it's finished and give you many due compliments.

    9. Agustín Cordes 2-time creator on

      Thank you, folks. It's nice to hear you're taking it easy with the pitchforks, though we're keeping our guard up. Seriously, though, the support and encouragement mean the world to us! And now, back to work.

    10. Paul Marzagalli on

      Let's remember that Jon Blow's follow-up to Braid, The Witness, was first announced in 2009 and still isn't out (it originally had a 2011 release date).

    11. Cleo on

      Thanks for the update, Agustin. I know just what you mean about the proliferation of small "patches" that are needed when the progression of the game demands that a scene change slightly.... and how these "aptches" are need for every direction from which they can be seen. It gets a bit daunting to say the least. If it makes you feel any better, I once read that it took 80 people and 4 years to make the third Myst game. By those standards, you guys are doing great! ;)

    12. Christoph Zürcher on

      Great update as always Agustin. As long as you can afford to work on the game, the game can only get better.

    13. Lagomorph on

      We'll all be here whenever it's ready! Glad you are taking the time to do it right, rather than compromise and risk failure.

    14. Rick Kitagawa on

      Take as long as you need! As long as we get regular updates and you actually make the game and it's as solid as we all hope it should be, I'll be happy as a clam. Really though, I don't back things here because I NEED creators to hit a deadline, I'm really looking for people who are going to make awesome products, and if that takes more time, then so be it.

    15. Alex Neilson
      Superbacker
      on

      Take as much time as you need and keep us regularly updated. So long as you eventually finish the game, I don't really mind how long it takes :)

    16. Martin Breiner
      Superbacker
      on

      Guys, this is Kickstarter, it is normal to not be ready as planed.
      No problem for me. I like feature rich, lovely done and almost bug free gaming.
      So take your time and make it right.

    17. Jarred Schulte on

      Frankly, I greatly appreciate the update. Also, I'm sure there are people super angry at not yet having the game finished, again frankly, piss on them. Kickstarter is a funding platform and not a store. The reward is late but I would rather have an amazing and rewarding experience for my reward than some half assed rushed project.

      Thank you immensely for the update. Keep the communication train on tracks and do your things. Need more money? I'll happily throw down on a paetron (I think that's how it's spelled) program to add a continued source of funding.

    18. Jessica Norris on

      Thank you for the update!!