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A psychological horror adventure inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and set in a massive, decaying mental institute.
3,169 backers pledged $119,426 to help bring this project to life.

Serenade For Adventure Games

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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.

(panting, panting)

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.

A message from the real Serena to all adventure peeps.
A message from the real Serena to all adventure peeps.

Read On

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!

-Agustín

Comments

    1. Creator Agustín Cordes on March 14, 2014

      Right. We're doing everything we can to speed up the development, but this is a game that really can't be rushed. You could say that in terms of Kickstarter timeframes we're still in good shape, but that's no excuse for our delays. Just rest assured that Asylum is alive and kicking, it will be completed, and it will blow your mind as we promised!

    2. Creator Russell Deitch on March 14, 2014

      @Sharon, stretch goals. The delivery date is only an estimate. Tesla Effect (Tex Murphy) isn't out yet and the estimate for that was December 2012.

    3. Creator Wing on March 11, 2014

      @Sharon I think it's a little early to feel that way. There are open lines of communication and this KS is definitely not belly up.

    4. Creator Sharon on March 7, 2014

      I thought this was supposed to be done in December 2013. It's now three months later. What gives?

      This is definitely my last Kickstarter project.

    5. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 27, 2014

      As I said in the general comments section, I'll be sharing news about Asylum and our latest progress soon! Stay tuned for horror!

    6. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 16, 2014

      @Kurt, We will request the book titles when we send the surveys!

    7. Creator Kurt on February 15, 2014

      So where does a person who pledged $150 or above post their book title choice?

    8. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 15, 2014

      Yup, uploaded to IndieDB :)

      For now Windows and Mac OS X builds, though. Distributing Linux without Steam is a real pain :(

    9. Creator ThomasN on February 15, 2014

      Sirius:
      Thanks, but if I click "Download", some flash progressbar is filling. Not sure what that means. I've seen my browser doing a download before and this is not what happens. Thanks again for the thought, though.

    10. Creator Russell Deitch on February 15, 2014

      Senscape cares, huh? :)

    11. Creator Sirius on February 4, 2014

      @Fate, I know :P
      @Cleo, I I will summon and send you Cthulhu just for you :P
      @Frodo, You are welcome :)

    12. Creator Frodo on February 4, 2014

      Sirius, thankyou very much.

    13. Creator Cleo on February 4, 2014

      @Sirius
      Liam Neeson, really? Like to my house? Hmm.....

      ::whine whine whine....::

    14. Creator Fate on February 4, 2014

      Oh Gaston, you had me at gondola.

    15. Creator Sirius on February 3, 2014

      @All of you

      There:
      http://forum.senscape.net/index.php/topic,1961
      Now stop complaining and enjoy the game! (If any of you whine about mega I swear of god I'll send Liam Neeson to you! http://www.youtube.com/watch…)

    16. Creator ThomasN on February 3, 2014

      As for that wonderful tribute game: I hope somebody trustworthy .zip's it and give me some download link, because the day I create a steam account all that researching and supporting NEW drm free games through kickstarter,... would be for NOTHING.

    17. Creator Snake on February 3, 2014

      I enjoyed playing this game and I think you showed a really great heart by taking such initiative. But I would like to get an update exclusively dedicated to Asylum in the next days. It would be nice to know how the alpha stage is going.

    18. Creator ThomasN on February 3, 2014

      For any dev wondering where you can see If you sold me a DRM free game: On the software itself, you don't. That's the whole point. You trust ME to not pirate it.
      If that does not suffice, do a serial# check (which is DRM, but OK for online IMHO). I just don't like the Steam/Origin/whatever middleware. It's not needed period.

    19. Creator ThomasN on February 3, 2014

      For anybody equalling GOG with Steam: If GOG goes tits up, I can install my games (yes, I've downloaded all my games I purchased from GOG). If Steam goes tits up, you CAN NOT install "your" games.

    20. Creator Cleo on February 3, 2014

      @Crosmando
      Thanks for asking about Adamantus. While Agustin is putting the finishing touches on Dagon, I've been working on finishing up the areas in the game. Once the "final" changes are made to Dagon (and it's safe to go back in the water), I'll begin assembling the game again. It's slow going, but it's going.

      Myst was my first inspiration to make a game and you're right that I'd like to recreate some of that old style atmosphere in Adamantus. Back in November, I posted a few more pictures of some of the areas on the Senscap forums.

      http://forum.senscape.net/index.php/topic,1879.0.html

    21. Creator TrentJaspar on February 3, 2014

      From http://leviathyn.com/pc/2014/02/01/steam-isnt-perfect-important-know/
      "When you buy a game on Steam you’re actually buying a “limited, terminable, non-exclusive license” to use the game. [...] Valve could remove any game from your library and be perfectly within their right to do so."

      There's more, but when I buy from GOG and the HumbleStore, I buy an installer and I can install anywhere/any time I choose. [I'll have to look into the GOG license WRT trade/sale of the installer.] When I buy from Steam, they still own the rights and I'm renting a game until they tell me I can't any more. Now, *I* don't think they're going to take games away from me, and *I* don't fear the Steam Apocalypse, but they *can* and that makes it DRM.

      Again, I'm not talking about this in the context of Serena-- it makes sense as a Steam exclusive. And this doesn't matter for Asylum, as Update #9 clearly says that backing Asylum means keys for Steam+GOG+Desura. I'm just objecting to the claim that "Steam is not DRM."

    22. Creator Valery on February 3, 2014

      @Sirius
      Please, take notice that we are not doubting Steam benefits. Nor we are protesting against Steam. This service has it's advantages. I'm personally strongly against Steam-ONLY releases. Trust me, I have my reasons not to use Steam and Steam-client which one MUST USE in order to get anything from Steam is the first of them (I simply can't install said client due to it's unreasonably high requirements to broadness and stability of internet connection).
      So, your irony about "so bad DRM system" is really out of place (and pisses some people off: we'll see how you update "automatically" all your library using GPRS connection at 64kbit/s).
      I didn't use GOG at all (for obvious reasons) but with all my competence and honour I assure you: Humble Store does not require any sort of authorisation or registration. You can purchase stuff there without account or need of special software. You can even send a gift bundle to your friends who didn't even heard about Humble Store before (unlike Steam keys which you can not use without client and account).
      P.S. Steam doesn't accept random games either. Have you heard about "Steam Greenlight"?
      P.P.S. I will enjoy "this awesome game" when it will have proper release.

    23. Creator Sirius on February 3, 2014

      Some of you are confusing copyright material with an intrusive (or not) digital right management system and like it or not is not the same thing.
      Yes steam have a proper DRM system, in some cases very intrusive in others not so much, having to login to their client to download a game is a form of DRM because it is managing digital rights. Is Serena 100% DRM free? technically no, but come on even if it is on gog you need to create and account, log in on their website, add the game to you account (assuming gog accepts the game in the first place..) and download the files of the game, steam is only managing the files.
      I see only benefits by hosting the game on steam:
      * No bandwidth use for their servers (yes bandwidth cost money!)
      * Updates or patches(in case the game needs it but doesnt look like it runs perfect) are automatically applied and managed by again the steam client aka the so bad DRM system...
      *Gog doesnt accepts all the games, they only host games as they see they are profitable in some way or another(even if they are free), cant speak for humble store.
      *Steam is very well known so the diffusion of the game is much more bigger using it.

      And like Agustin said before, if you dont want steam, install the game, copy it into another folder and uninstall later, will only take you a couple of minutes to do it.

      Now everyone stop arguing and enjoy this awesome little game!

    24. Creator Valery on February 2, 2014

      @Agustín Cordes
      You seem to have a misconception regarding DRM.
      DRM isn't about legality of distribution. DRM are TECHNICAL means of preventing "unauthorised" actions of user, such as: moving to another PC (even his/hers own), making archive backups, reinstalling after system crush (this is important under Windows). Such control is achieved via harsh and intrusive TECCNICAL means such as installing 3rd party spy software, validating optical media, mandatory on-line registration with constant internet connection; that's why DRM is hated so much. Humble Store or GOG do not include DRM.
      And Steam IS DRM.
      P.S. If you letting to play a game for free then you should probably stop care whether it is "reselling" among users or not. After all why anyone should buy a freely available game?

    25. Creator Russell Deitch on February 2, 2014

      So I checked ... Niamh = Neave: the m has a dot above it in the original.

    26. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 2, 2014

      TrentJaspar, with that reasoning, then GOG isn't DRM-free either. You can't resell your games there (and yet everybody agrees that GOG is 100% DRM-free!).

      Digital games have changed the landscape of distribution for better or worse. They are very convenient to players and developers, but the downside is losing the ability to sell them. Whether Steam, GOG, or anyone comes with a solution for trading or reselling, that's another question. Ironically, that *would* imply some sort of DRM. After all, how am I going to allow you to resell/trade your game if first I can't tell whether you own it? That's the whole point of DRM after all :)

      So anyway, reselling digital games is a very murky issue, and a discussion that may be just as complicated as abandonware. And I don't believe it necessarily has to do with being DRM-free or not.

    27. Creator TrentJaspar on February 2, 2014

      So, can you buy a game on Steam, install it and play it, then trade it with somebody else (or sell it or give it)? No. That's DRM: Digital Rights Management: your Rights to the Digital materials are being Managed by Valve.

      Not using the CEG component of Steamworks doesn't mean that Steam isn't DRM...it just means that it doesn't have runtime license validation, and for some games it might be possible to copy/install the game elsewhere. Other games require an installer to install/run properly, but Steam doesn't provide that.

      Don't get me wrong-- I love Steam and buy most of my games on it. It adds a lot of value so I don't mind the DRM.

      I'm not worried about Serena-- it's free, after all-- they should do whatever's easiest for them.

    28. Creator Russell Deitch on February 2, 2014

      That was excellent! It's one way to get yourself immortalised! ;)

      One tiny from me - it's impossible to read Gaelic without being taught as it's not pronounced as it's spelt. As far as I know Niamh is pronounced Neem (but I'm not a native Gaelic speaker).

    29. Creator TheChosenOne on February 2, 2014

      Another person who has no clue what he is talking about...
      Steam is not DRM. It is a distribution platform. Games can be fully DRM free without ever the need of using Steam again. Most games don't do that but that is another story and is due to the dev's themselves.

    30. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 2, 2014

      Folks, there's truly no technical grounds to claim that Steam implies DRM. It's a distribution platform that requires a software and an account. Yes, the software is bloated, you may like it or not, and just like with most platforms, including Humble Bundle and GOG, it requires some sort of registration.

      The software you download may or may not be tied to your account. THAT is DRM: essentially, the need to be logged in to play the games you downloaded. You could right now copy Serena in a USB or CD and keep it forever until the end of times and nobody, not Valve and certainly not us, would raise a finger.

      Why Steam? Like I said, it made our lives considerably easier, as well as given exposure we could only dream of to this free adventure. Free is the keyword: there's no budget here, so we can't afford to distribute the game ourselves and didn't have time to discuss about other solutions.

      I understand the frustration, so now that the game is out, I will actively seek alternatives to download Serena. To be clear, this doesn't change in any way our plans for Asylum: it will be DRM-free (yes, EVEN on Steam!) and distributed through the aforementioned platforms :)

    31. Creator TrentJaspar on February 2, 2014

      In Update #9, Cordes clearly writes that every $15+ backer gets three keys for Asylum: Steam, GOG, and Desura. If this is no longer the case, then to me that seems like going back on a KS promise, no? Correct me if I'm wrong.

      For a free game, I don't know that it "matters" if Steam is DRM or not. I have no problem with releasing it only through Steam-- it's FREE and was never promised DRM-free or otherwise. But for the actual Asylum game, Steam is absolutely DRM because (at a minimum) you can't trade or sell your license to the game.

      FWIW, I have no problem with Steam DRM and have tons of Steam games. But if gamers (and God-forbid developers) start touting Steam as "DRM-free", then we're in trouble.

    32. Creator TrentJaspar on February 2, 2014

      @Matthew C Last: Steam is DRM for all purchased games, because you cannot trade or sell your license to the game. That's DRM. In some cases, as you say, you can copy and install on other systems even if they don't have the Steam client. That may or may not be in breach of the license you agreed to when you bought the license to the game. Either way, that's a vast minority of games, most of which require the Steam client for installation and license validation.

    33. Creator Matthew C Last on February 2, 2014

      To those who argue that Steam is DRM, it really depends on the situation. The DOS games that you can buy on it can easily be moved to a computer without steam, and still run. They are not dependent on Steam whatsoever. I just loaded Serena from the Dagon64.exe, and it looks as though Steam itself was not at all invoked. So, in this case it seems as though Agustin is completely correct. How odd that a man involved in the development of a piece of software might have some insight into how it is distributed! And while I would argue that steam is technically DRM, it's incredibly non intrusive even when you categorize it as such.

    34. Creator ThomasN on February 2, 2014

      As the elephant in the room is already discussed. I just have to add that I'm also disappointed that I have to watch this game on a let's play because I refuse to install and register the steam software. Agustín Cordes: It's great that you put up a version on Steam which you also can start directly (if you know where steam has put the game) even if the internet is gone, but that doesen't change the fact that you can't install the game without having to register on Steam and installing their intrusive (the discussion of this would be too long here, one example is they know how long you play which game) shop software. The fact that nowadays even in the indie scene it's just assumed that everybody has installed Steam makes me sad. And it's always, always come off as party popper even when I simply ask if it has required steam on game forums of games (like this) which would otherwise truly, truly interest me in their artistic value. Thankfully you made that requirement clear, so I wouldn't have had to made this post. TLDR: Game great, steam sucks.

    35. Creator Pogopuschel on February 2, 2014

      Nice update! And thanks to all who worked on Serena! It really was a pleasant surprise when it suddenly appeared out of nowhere :-)

    36. Creator Valery on February 2, 2014

      @Agustín Cordes:
      No, sir! No confusions at all. Steam IS an intrusive software which you HAVE TO install, run and update in order to even GET a game. And you ARE REQUIRED to have Steam account in order to get anything at all. So Steam is pure DRM. Only direct download link is considered DRM-free. For example: sites such as Humble Store or Groupees can provide keypage with links via email without registration. This is not the case with Steam.

    37. Creator aleksandar stossitch on February 2, 2014

      short not sweet....but very good

    38. Creator Matthew C Last on February 1, 2014

      Congrats on Serena, my friend! I can't wait to play it. You know.. I may load it up right now!

    39. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 1, 2014

      There seems to be a confusion: Steam does NOT equal DRM. In fact, Serena is 100% DRM-free. I decided to use Steam to distribute the game because, quite frankly, it makes our lives much easier. It also gave us a huge deal of exposure.

      That said, we're considering options to distribute elsewhere :)

    40. Creator William O'Meallain on February 1, 2014

      Kudos on Serena, but boo to having to resort to DRM to get it.

    41. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 1, 2014

      Crosmando, I'm sure that Imari (the creator of Adamantus) will step up and give us a status on the game. I know the project is doing well :)

    42. Creator Agustín Cordes on February 1, 2014

      I love when you get lovely-dovey.

    43. Creator Steven "Blackthorne" Alexander on February 1, 2014

      Love Dagon, Loved Serena (the game), love Serena (the Hero of the AGRM), love you and everyone at Senscape, love to all my friends who helped MAKE Serena.....

      Seriously, it made me really get psyched up for Asylum - got a taste, and I want more. Can't wait to play your game.

      I'm so excited... and I just can't hide it. (Don't let me have a few beers and post on KS again. I get lovey-dovey.)

      Bt

    44. Creator Pedasn on February 1, 2014

      nice one :)

    45. Creator Crosmando on February 1, 2014

      Unrelated question:
      Do you guys have any information on when this game will be coming out:
      http://www.senscape.net/adamantus/ ???

      I know it's not actually being developed by you guys, but I thought you'd know something as it's being hosted on your site and using this new engine. I just love that pre-rendered Myst-style graphics it's using and would love some more information on it.

    46. Creator jorlinn on Linux on February 1, 2014

      Nice update and thanks for Serena :-), but please be sure to distribute the final version and subsequent patches for the Linux version through a platform that is unencumbered by DRM, such as Humble Store and/ or Desura.

    47. Creator Serena Nelson - Hero of the AGRM on February 1, 2014

      Very good update. I totally loved reading it. Great job to everyone involved on Serena!

    48. Creator Frodo on February 1, 2014

      The clip looks very creepy and atmospheric, and love seeing those book on the shelf. But will it be available drm free?

    49. Creator Stiler Orion on February 1, 2014

      Congrats to everyone who worked on Serena.