Wait, what’s going on? An update on Saturday?! Last one I posted was Monday, of all days, and now we keep breaking the tradition of Update Friday? I’m so sorry that I’m doing this to you. You’re probably confused and scared. Everything is OK, trust me. Relax and take a deep breath — things will go back to normal shortly. Just keep reading and go with the flow.
By the way, a heartfelt thank you for the words encouragement and understanding following last month’s update. I do feel like we’re pushing the limits of your patience with Asylum, and what your “take your time” sentiments do is prompt us to finish it as soon as possible. You’re a lovely bunch and we won’t disappoint you the least bit.
But let’s talk about… updates! Yes, this is rather meta, what I’m talking about is talking about status updateses. I mean the update about the status update of the project. You know, updating you about the status update of game. As in, the status of the update. No, wait— the up…
I keep talking about how large Asylum is but I don’t often get into specifics. It’s fairly common knowledge that the Hanwell Mental Institute has three floors, but this isn’t quite accurate: there are five different levels in truth with a wide variety of rooms distributed across them. When designing each floor, we tried to come up with a certain look and feel as well as a distinct layout:
The first (or ground floor in some countries) houses offices and administrative areas, along with daily activities such as laundry, therapy and game rooms, etc. It has a blueish tone to it for no particular reason; since the game takes place mostly at night, blue felt like a proper introductory color.
The second has operating rooms, laboratories, morgue, museum, etc. That is, medical areas. It has a greenish tone which is a color commonly associated with “organic”.
The third floor has deposits, a ramshackle church, areas that house activities such as workshops, art room, etc. Because it’s all dusty and gloomy, it has an appropriate brownish tone throughout — it almost makes you want to cough.
But there’s more: there are further areas upstairs, the last floor we added (which wasn’t contemplated in the original design of the building) for sake of consistency with the asylum front. It’s basically a greenhouse with its terrace and some hallways, but still a sizable location. No particular look and feel for this one.
Finally, the basement counts as a whole floor; it’s equivalent in size to the third one and provides many areas of interest, chief among them the dreaded “Tunnel of the Damned” which houses the high risk patients and furnace room (Scratches fans, beware!). The color tone in this area is a menacing red.
Come think of it, there’s yet another underground level which are the sewers. We’re literally out of our minds after putting this bloody thing together.
Alright, so all the above areas and floors are near final. We’ve been iterating through them for months, ensuring the newer graphics are in line with the earliest ones. You know, after working on the same game for years, the discrepancy between assets starts becoming painfully obvious; you learn more, you become better at doing things, and when you look back at the early stuff you did, you’re like “OMG that sucks”. Those backers that played the VIP build can surely attest to the consistent quality of the Hanwell Mental Institute. Currently we’re looking at almost 2000 high resolution textures which account for roughly 300 nodes. To compare, Scratches had just 160. Even so, the gaming area in Asylum is larger because we’re using less nodes per room, as otherwise exploration would become tiresome and repetitive. When I say the game is huge, I do mean it.
But artwork is only one aspect of a project and there’s much more…
We’ve planned around a dozen cutscenes for Asylum, including the intro and conclusion (as in, Full Motion Video). I wanted to go easy on them as, generally, cutscenes aren’t good practice: they break the game flow and often feel out of place. Luckily, because our visual assets are 90% pre-rendered, cutscenes blend beautifully with the locations and in-game graphics. Of those cutscenes we planned, 50% are good to go including a badass final sequence, but there’s still work to do in this area and we might be adding a few more before we declare the game ready. Thing is, there’s such an intriguing lore behind the institute, so many characters and situations depicted in the story, that it would be a shame if we don’t make proper use of them. Most cutscenes involve flashbacks the protagonist experiences as the story develops, flashbacks that provide insight into the mysterious past happenings in Hanwell. We know there’s a limit in how far we can go here, as FMV is darned expensive and time-consuming to produce. Fortunately, it’s the easiest aspect to expand or cut as the overall experience would remain solid without a few extra cutscenes.
Speaking of characters, I’ve extensively discussed them in the past, especially the process of turning some of them into realtime 3D. Our cast is comprised of a dozen, four of them interacting directly with the player. All these characters are also near final, and let me show you how much they have changed over time:
This was by far the trickiest aspect of developing Asylum. Modeling and animating human characters is very, very difficult.
Other less critical aspects in the game include SFX and readable documents, all of which are currently in progress. We have lots of environmental effects readied and the writing is well underway; I have planned around 30 notes, journals, newspapers, recordings, and more you will find inside Hanwell (about twice as much as Scratches). I’m very happy with the structure of the twisty storyline and how players will come across clues and revealing details; I trust you will greatly enjoy it.
The writing for dialogues isn’t as advanced as the fictional documents, though, but it’s also something that I’m currently working on. I might be elaborating on this aspect of the development in the next update, but so far I’m very satisfied with the system we settled in. Dialogues in Asylum, or how you interact with NPCs, will be a mixture of old-school context-based queries (similar to RPGs in which you pick a subject to discuss instead of typical dialogue trees) and TellTale-style timeouts which take the dialogue in a particular direction if you take too much time to decide a subject. It sounds complicated, I know, but I need a whole separate update to properly discuss this.
Then there’s the soundtrack: music in Asylum has also suffered a transformation of sorts over the years. Originally, Cellar of Rats — the musical mastermind behind Scratches — was going to produce it, yet he was planning something completely different; not as nostalgic and melodic as Scratches but more abstract, disjointed soundscapes akin to Doom 3. Alas, CoR left the music business when we begun working on the game and for some time we joined forces with the popular and talented Daniel Pharos and his Knights of Soundtrack. They produced the memorable theme for the trailer and other in-game soundscapes, somewhat in line with what CoR had originally devised. However, we decided to part ways (a strictly business decision in good terms) and that’s when Pablo — my brother — took charge. His work so far has been superlative and, judging by the public response after we released the soundtrack EP on SoundCloud, fans are already in love with the music of Asylum. Ironically, we’ve come full circle: it’s moody, apprehensive, shifting between nostalgia and sheer dread, very much in line with the memorable compositions in Scratches. I feel like this is the way the soundtrack was always supposed to be, so I couldn’t be happier that it’s right on track now (Ha ha, get it? Track! Ha ha… eh… umm). Anyway, we have planned at least 60 minutes of music of which 30 are already composed.
To be honest, the one aspect of Asylum that is most behind schedule is programming. As I explained last time, switching to Unity solved many problems but slowed down development as we had to readapt portions of the game (and our very own mindsets). While the game is playable, we still need to recreate hotspots, implement assets and finalize the logic of puzzles. Thankfully, our current workflow for the project is much saner than what we were doing last year, and things are starting to move faster. I do believe we're going to have a new exclusive updated build for backers before the end of the year.
Believe or not, the design and script of Asylum remain unchanged since 2009. We haven't lost focus and the game is shaping up to be what we devised almost six years ago. Damn, I feel old…
Phew! I hope you enjoyed the updating of the status as much as I enjoyed typing it. Stay safe, love each other, and see you next time.
Shout, shout, let it all out…
Wait, wait! I almost forgot Adventure Game Shout-Out Service. It’s been a while since there were so many cool adventure game campaigns on Kickstarter at the same time, and some of them could still use your help. I was really sad to see Argentinian Lovecraftian-Noir NoseBound not making it, even though we pushed it real hard on Twitter, but they might give it another shot next year and I think it’s one you should definitely keep your eye(s) on.
Still Kickstarting is The Journey Down from my buddies at SkyGoblin — they’ve already made their goal but they deserve to duplicate it because the series is fantastic. In fact, I think it’s on its way to become one of the best adventure game series ever. Check it out here:
Finally there’s Memoranda, an intriguing project I instantly fell in love with. The concept is interesting and the style is absolutely unique. It’s almost past the finishing line and you (yes, YOU!) could become the backer that makes it happen:
And now we say goodbye!