I Update, Therefore I Am (ik ûpdäit wik majestic møøse)
As I told you last time, development of Asylum has been ramping up since we finalized the production of Hanwell. When I say production, I'm referring to the actual programming of the building, turning it into a playable game world. Since then, we've been polishing some graphics here and there, taking care the look and feel (especially the annoying lighting) is consistent across every room, and fixing bugs. We are this close to declare that Asylum is in true alpha stage, meaning the game is fully playable to some extent. Our next step is to test this new version with daring folks, including our VIP Visitors, Inmates and Doctors. They will tell us how it feels to explore Hanwell, how easy it is to find their way, and most importantly if the whole thing is stable (so far it really seems like it). To achieve this we need to include a few more details, such as regular maps adorning the many corridors and improving some passages (for instance, walking up and down some stairways is still a bit of a hassle). As soon as we receive this feedback, we will move on to the final task of adding profiles, diplomas, and names of backers throughout Hanwell.
You're probably wondering if we're being a tad obsessive when dedicating so much attention to the building itself, and you may be right. Thing is, the element of exploration in Asylum is so important, and the immersion factor must be so impeccable, that we're striving to make it feel like an "experience" rather than a game. For example, something we have improved a lot is the transition between rooms. It was a bit awkward till now how the protagonist remained still while opening doors, which also revealed a few glitches in the previous builds of the game. We found a solution that greatly improves the overall pacing and movement ("rhythm" as I like to call it), which is to perform a couple of extra steps each time you open a door. The result feels smooth and natural:
Remember folks, this isn't "real" 3D! In fact, many are still curious about Dagon since that update when I discussed it, so I have been preparing a lengthy introduction to the engine for you...
A Lengthy Introduction To The Engine
One crucial aspect of developing any engine is to ensure that it can be easily repurposed for many different projects, so its programming language and feature set must be as "generic" as possible. Because Dagon and Asylum are sister projects, it can be sometimes difficult to determine how much goes in the engine and how much is the game's responsibility. For instance, it's tempting to include quick and dirty patches in the engine (often known as hardcoding) to make programming the current game easier, but that will only bring problems for future games, those that don't benefit or may even conflict with the "X" feature that you hardcoded.
Such a dilemma has been present since the SCream and Scratches days. Back then I made some bad choices code-wise, but thankfully learned from such mistakes and tackled Dagon with a better approach. To understand how things work now, we need to make an important distinction as there are three layers of programming: the engine code, the engine programming language (or API), and the game code.
Roughly speaking, Dagon would be the nuts and bolts while the API is the set of instructions that define how users will program the engine. Then there's the actual game code, or the magic that makes Asylum happen. In short, you always want to make sure that the engine code knows nothing about the game code, and vice-versa, while the API is the nexus between them.
It has a been a huge concern of mine to ensure that the API is as generic as possible and especially makes sense to other programmers. More so, to design a language that at the same time feels simple and powerful, flexible enough to accommodate different styles of adventures, and is easily scalable for future purposes. For instance, Dagon is currently supporting first person adventures only, but as soon as we're done with Asylum I have immediate plans to add third person support.
So how it feels to program with Dagon? The core idea couldn't get any simpler: you create Nodes and arrange them in Rooms. Nodes are the discrete positions where the player can walk and Rooms are the containers that hold them, often applying certain properties to sets of nodes such as shared visual effects and background music. In the future third person implementation, Nodes would become Scenes (since in this style of adventures a scene usually depicts a single room), and Rooms would become Locations, that is, large areas holding similar scenes.
The nodes themselves are, quite literally, 3D cubes.
We're often asked how we're able to render such quality graphics on these cubes without any distortion and so much freedom to look around in every possible direction, and frankly we still don't know. It's like some kind of voodoo magic or Apple computers: It Just Works™. Basically, what we do is project some very large pre-rendered textures on all six faces of the cube:
But the really powerful object here is the Spot.
I designed this as a sort of abstract region in a node that can become anything: a sound, an image, a video, etc. This is achieved by "attaching" media to it. So a spot could be a single point to which you attach a sound effect such as a distant scream of agony, and Dagon will automatically relocate the sound around you as you rotate the camera. Now transform that spot into a square region, then attach a video, and Dagon will project that video on the corresponding face of the cube, all while playing the previously attached sound effect of the scream. But what if we want to interact with that spot? Simple, we attach a custom piece of code where we give Dagon a set of instructions, and suddenly we have... a hotspot! See what I did there?
So Asylum is essentially that: a collection of Nodes with many, many Spots in them, all neatly organized in Rooms. Once you understand how the Spot object is supposed to work, which is like a container for your resources or media, and also may support interactions, it can be straightforward to create a complex adventure game. It did take me a few years (yes, years) to iron out the system and ensure those internal greasy gears work as intended. Curiously, the time spent researching and experimenting may match the actual time spent producing the engine. However, when I see projects like the upcoming Adamantus, a considerably different game than Asylum but built upon the same foundation, I feel like the time invested on Dagon has paved the way for exciting future possibilities. Both Dagon and Asylum are only the first steps of a much longer walk... or the first flowers in a vast garden... rather, the first drips of a bloodbath... heck, the beginning of something beautiful.
To see what I mean, here's a bit of Asylum code:
Repeat for 1000+ spots in 100 rooms.
Wow, look at the hour! It's time for my soup of eyeballs. If there's enough interest, I will continue discussing Dagon next time. Stay tuned for the results of our alpha test as well, and there's definitely a new gameplay video coming up soon.
Have a horrifying weekend!
P.S.: I would like to wish a most happy birthday to Serena Nelson, a staunch supporter of this project, as well as many, many other Kickstarters... rather, an undisputed hero of the entire adventure game community... heck, DIVINE SAVIOR OF PLANET EARTH. We owe her much and are so glad to know her. May your day be filled with many slimy tentacles, dear Serena.
P.P.S.: Riggo is not a lie.
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GUEST - You love us and we love you. For your kind effort, you will be granted a KICKSTARTER BACKER BADGE in our SENSCAPE forums. We will also feature your name on the ONLINE REGISTER OF GUESTS on the upcoming www.Hanwell.org website. Also, our undying gratitude: we will sing songs in your name and light candles on your behalf every night. We might even perform sacrifices!Estimated delivery:
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LIMITED VISITOR - Hurry! This is your chance to get inside Hanwell at the lowest price. You get a DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF ASYLUM for PC, MAC, and LINUX. This special price is available for early backers only. Of course, you will be featured on the ONLINE REGISTER OF VISITORS and also get the backer badge. And maybe more sacrifices.Estimated delivery:
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VISITOR - Oops, missed the previous offer? Worry not! For a few more bucks you can still get inside Hanwell and be terrified for the rest of your life. That's right: a DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF ASYLUM for PC, MAC, and LINUX. Plus the backer badge and online presence as a visitor.Estimated delivery:
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WELL-INFORMED VISITOR - You know your stuff. You want to visit Hanwell with all the leaflets and brochures. Alright then, you get the previous reward tier plus the DIGITAL RECORD BOOK including all sorts of gory details about the asylum, such as character profiles, backstory, and more. Also, the DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE SOUNDTRACK, so you can listen to moody music as you walk down the somber and dusty corridors...Estimated delivery:
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WAITING VISITOR - You're a visitor and you're well-informed, but what if you have to spend time in the Waiting Room? We've got you covered: you get the previous reward tier plus a full-color PRINTED RECORD BOOK in glossy glory, so you can sit and skim through its pages in the old-fashioned way. Also, a download of A TOUR OF HANWELL documentary with many extras: interviews with the team, making of, and more.Estimated delivery:
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SPECIAL VISITOR - Ohhh myyy, are we fancy. You want to navigate the decrepit and unhealthy halls of Hanwell in style. Fine, then it's the previous reward tier plus the BOXED VERSION OF ASYLUM. Yes, the one we're talking about on the project page, which includes the printed Record Book.Estimated delivery:
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VIP VISITOR - Not content with being special, now you want to be an important, big bad visitor of the Hanwell Institute. Fine then, right this way: you get the previous reward tier plus a glorious DIGIPAK VERSION OF THE SOUNDTRACK, because you also love touching things, and we upgrade your badge to a VIP FORUM BADGE. We'll also THANK YOU IN THE ENDING CREDITS of the game. Finally, you get EARLY ACCESS TO ALPHAS AND BETAS as they're released. Yeah, we take the VIP thing very seriously...Estimated delivery:
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PERMANENT VISITOR - You really love the Hanwell Institute. In fact, you love it so much that you're going to stay inside... forever! This is the first tier that allows you to become immortalized in Asylum: you get the previous reward tier plus your NAME ON THE IN-GAME REGISTER OF VISITORS. This document will be sitting very close to the entrance of Hanwell! But wait, there's more! We'll throw in a cool ASYLUM T-SHIRT to prove to your friends that you've been inside Hanwell.Estimated delivery:
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INMATE - You don't just love Hanwell... you belong to Hanwell. No, really, you do because you're nuts! You've become an inmate, so you get the previous reward tier except you're featured on the ONLINE REGISTER OF INMATES. Also, you get your NAME ON THE IN-GAME REGISTER OF PAST INMATES. This will be a register in the Archives Room and readable by all players! Finally, your box will be upgraded to a SIGNED BOXED VERSION OF ASYLUM that you can feature on your shelf with style. It will be signed by Agustín himself (or at least someone who believes he's Agustín). We also give you ONE EXTRA DIGITAL DOWNLOAD of the game so that you can gift the horror to someone you hate.Estimated delivery:
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EDUCATED INMATE - You're an inmate, yes. But you're a fancy know-it-all that pays attention in classes. So, you get the previous reward tier except there's a LABEL WITH YOUR NAME IN THE IN-GAME CLASSROOM. Yup, there will be a table with your name on it. Remember to bring the apple! From this tier onwards all the inmates become current residents of the Institute. Therefore, you get your NAME ON THE PRINTED RECORD BOOK as well. Also, all boxes will be upgraded to include a SIGNED AND PERSONALIZED MESSAGE. Agustín will write stuff like "Dear Eriq, I will haunt you in your nightmares. Forever and ever". Or "Joseph, I would love to eat your guts marinated with roach paste". Charming.Estimated delivery:
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CREATIVE INMATE - You're not that knowledgeable, but you're creative. You like making things. And labelling them. So, you get the previous reward tier except there's a LABEL WITH YOUR NAME IN THE IN-GAME WORKSHOP. This means there will be a lovingly crafted item, you know, like most handcrafted things you can see in schools or modern art museums, with your name attached to it. Awesome.Estimated delivery:
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ARTIST INMATE - You're so creative that you can create art. Yes, art! Well, at least by the standards of the Hanwell Institute... You get the previous reward tier except there will be a DRAWING WITH YOUR NAME AND/OR SIGNATURE IN THE IN-GAME ART ROOM. And if you want to give us your very own drawing we will gladly feature it, as long as the whole team agrees. This goes without saying but the drawing shouldn't offend any religion, race, gender, favorite superhero, etc. It should be PG as well. Other than that, anything goes!Estimated delivery:
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DOCTOR - You didn't want to be an inmate anyway. You wanted to be... a lumberjack! Sorry, doctor. Thus, you get the previous reward tier except you're featured in the ONLINE REGISTER OF DOCTORS. Also, there will be an IN-GAME DIPLOMA WITH YOUR NAME hanging somewhere in the asylum and very visible to all players. Of course, you're also featured in both the digital and printed Record Book as a staff member of the institute. Finally, we will upgrade your backer badge to a GOLD FORUM BADGE, because we really appreciate your contribution, and you earn a SPECIAL THANKS IN THE ENDING CREDITS.Estimated delivery:
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SPECIAL INMATE - Your mom always said you were special and we're not going to argue about that fact. But everybody else should know it, so at this pledge level we're giving you the Educated Inmate reward tier except there will be an IN-GAME PROFILE WITH YOUR NAME AND CUSTOM BIOGRAPHY IN THE ARCHIVES ROOM. This is a full-sized profile that will be readable by players. You can even work out the details of the fictional biography with us, including real-life facts! Who knows, maybe you're so crazy you even get to visit a real asylum! You'll also be featured in the SPECIAL THANKS IN THE ENDING CREDITS and earn the GOLD FORUM BADGE.Estimated delivery:
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NOTORIOUS INMATE - You're an inmate and you're locked in a terrifying asylum, but that doesn't mean you can't be famous. You inspire respect (and occasionally fear) in your peers. Everybody knows they shouldn't mess with you... But, this also means that you're more closely watched by the staff. Therefore, you get all the rewards of the Special Inmate tier except there's an IN-GAME PROFILE WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPH AND CUSTOM BIOGRAPHY. These are going to be scattered around the asylum and will be even more visible to every player (for example, in Infirmaries, Meeting Room, Offices, etc). Your picture will be professionally retouched to make you look like a madman or madwoman. That's right, yet another step further into the Hall of the Insane Fame.Estimated delivery:
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DEAD INMATE - Are you crazy? Do you like being dead? Then this is the reward for you! You get all the stuff from the Special Inmate tier except there will be a PLAQUE WITH YOUR NAME IN THE IN-GAME MORGUE. Yes, there will be a refrigerator with your name on it that is very visible to every player. Also, we'll include a RELATED BIOGRAPHY WITH PHOTOGRAPH AND GRUESOME CAUSE OF DEATH right there in the morgue. In fact, you can tell us what you fear most in life and we'll make that the cause of your demise. Loads of fun for all!Estimated delivery:
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RENOWNED DOCTOR - So you're a doctor. But you never cared about other people's lives, you're only in it for the fame and glory. We understand. Therefore, we're giving you all the rewards of the Doctor tier except there will be a PROMINENT PORTRAIT WITH YOUR NAME IN THE IN-GAME GALLERY. A plaque will clearly state that you're a respected member of the asylum staff. You send us your picture and our talented artist will paint you as a very serious and pompous doctor. Certainly, your facial features will be fully recognizable because we know you're a show-off. Also, the portrait will be MADE A POSTER AND SIGNED BY THE TEAM, then of course mailed to you. Now take up thy stethoscope and walk!Estimated delivery:
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HIGH RISK MALE INMATE - Same as above but for MALE INMATES ONLY. This goes to show how serious we are about the architecture of the Hanwell Institute.Estimated delivery:
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HIGH RISK FEMALE INMATE - Now we're talking! You're crazy and you're mean. You're equally feared by other inmates and staff of the asylum. You have committed crimes, even. In a nutshell: you're adorable. With this pledge, your IN-GAME PROFILE IS FEATURED IN A CELL OF THE EXCLUSIVE "TUNNEL OF THE DAMNED". This is a very limited corridor with a dozen cells, and one of them is yours and only yours. For eternity. Not only will there be an in-game register stating this fact in an office before the Tunnel, but the profile with real photo adapted to look like a nutcase and custom biography will be featured right next to this cell. Needless to say, this profile will be MADE A POSTER AND SIGNED BY THE TEAM, then mailed to you. Of course, you also get the remaining rewards of the Notorious Inmate tier. Please note that to comply with the layout of the Institute, this pledge is for FEMALE INMATES ONLY.Estimated delivery:
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HIGH RISK FEMALE PRODUCER - You really care. And you really love us. Otherwise, why would you give five thousand bucks to complete strangers, right? Rest assured that your money is in good hands, and for your amazingly considerate pledge you get the same rewards as the High Risk Female Pledge, except you are FEATURED AS AN IN-GAME CHARACTER IN A CELL. We will painstakingly model an inmate that looks just like you, wonderfully integrated with the breathtaking graphics in Asylum, and the players will see your virtual self whenever they explore the dreaded "Tunnel of the Damned". For an example of how you will appear in the game, try our Interactive Teaser and look inside the last cell. We can also USE YOUR OWN VOICE for this character. You know, just send us a few screams, cries, groans, and stuff like that if desired. Of course, this tier includes the profile with photo and custom biography too, also printed and signed. Really: it's a virtual, animated rendition of yourself. Locked in an insane asylum. And thousands of players will see you. Must we say more? Yes, we must: your name will be FEATURED AS A PRODUCER DURING THE INTRO OF THE GAME. In other words, we really, really appreciate your pledge.Estimated delivery:
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HIGH RISK MALE PRODUCER - Same as above but for MALE INMATES ONLY.Estimated delivery:
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UNIQUE INMATE - This is the Mother of All Reward Tiers. You're just like the High Risk Producer except you are part of the story. Indeed: you BECOME AN IN-GAME CHARACTER THAT IS PART OF THE PLOT. Your virtual self will be menacing and will appear twice during the course of the game. Obviously, you will be quite the nuisance to thousands and thousands of players (we can privately reveal your role in the game if you're interested in pledging for this tier). As before, your character will be painstakingly modeled after your real picture. Unfortunately, the plot demands a male character for this role. However, an adventurous woman may still apply to experience what their male alter ego would look like. No matter your gender or sexual orientation, we will work out the facial features of this unique character directly with you. And because you're über-cool, WE WILL PAY FOR YOUR TRIP TO ARGENTINA where you will EAT A GENUINE, LEAN AND MEAN ARGENTINIAN BBQ WITH THE SENSCAPE TEAM. WE'RE SO EXCITED THAT WE CAN'T STOP USING CAPS. Uhm... sorry about that. Anyway, Agustín himself will cook that BBQ for you (if you're a vegan, maybe pasta). Seriously, many would pay with their lives for such a privilege, but we're only asking you for ten thousand bucks. We can be reasonable like that. Please note that the trip will be arranged for February 2014 and we will pay for your accommodation for two days.Estimated delivery:
- (30 days)