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Tsar Update #004 - Yet another Month

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

So it’s already December and we haven’t posted any news? Well, these last 4 weeks were the most busy weeks of the year for we Adugans, hands down. Last fortnight I was at São Paulo attending the first Interection South America, where I’ve published together with Beto a paper about Game Design. This paper is the result of our early studies on Game Design for our graduation project of which Beto will write about in the near future. There were also finals at university and all around end-of-the-year-craziness for everyone. Excuses, excuses, but what about the project? Well, let’s do our usual round up:

Game Design finished the core of the GDD and, even if we are a small team, the GDD is very important for this project. Now it is just polishing and revisions (and extensive testing of course!).

Vermonde at the programming dept. is working hard on finally turning the prototype into a prototype (the screenshot above may seem a little silly in it’s crudeness, but the function is what it is important at this early stage). Now we have a controllable character, guards, multiple levels, so things are finally taking a true shape. Probably me and Beto will drop the Legos and go work with the real deal very soon.

Sound Design is steaming up work on making the last sound assets for the conceptual soundscape. They also made an comprehensive conceptual work dealing with the nature of the abstraction layer of some sounds (specially soundsteps related to the guards and other NPCs) which seems complicated (and actually is pretty intricate) and I hope Marcel will write about it in the near future.

Ingrid, after finishing the core script, took a step back and started to really develop and deepen our main character’s… well, character. The whole deal: backstory, internal psyche, external behavior, etc. This was necessary to address some issues we are having with plot development. She finished this step and now is extending this work at a less detailed level to all the other characters found in the game.

Speaking of which, Visual Arts finally finished the characters concept arts. Endless color and texture testing resulted into a complete package of more than 70 characters, being 30 basic archetypes, plus 30 special individuals, plus a bunch of bonus characters, now resumed into a beautiful crowd concept. Some of which Pirin will present to you very soon.

That’s it for now. Expect a new Update next week, since it will be a productive one.

About maps, tools and paint. 2/2

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Hello again!

As I was saying, Easy Paint Tool SAI is remarkably different of other painting software, but now let me explain it better. Among those fundamental differences is the Water brush. Unfortunately I jut can’t tell exactly what makes this brush so special, even 2 months after my first contact with it and the intensive work I’ve done in it in the last weeks. The fact is that it is simply different of any brush I’ve used in Photoshop and Painter. To give you an idea it’s similar to the Artist’s Oil brush in Corel Painter, the one, by the way, that I used most until now. But Water has an unique dynamic of use, it’s trace just flows, it can vary opacity, color and width by pen’s pressure, and it blends and changes the colors already in the canvas in a awesome way. To show you a little about this dynamics I’ll present now a simple walk through of one of the Concepts I’ve been working on, an Outside Yard of the Moscow Kremlin Palaces.

In the first step I’ve traced the plan of the two stories of buildings that would be done, I’ve used just the Water brush with Noise at this point.

After that I’ve started the illustration proper. It was done using some layers, as it would be useful have the concept being modular and flexible, being able to represent both outside and inside areas. One of the main goes of this concept was to map tilesets, the pieces of patters and textures that can be applied on surfaces, making easier to cover big areas. In this case it happened specially in the ground, the roofs and in stonewalls, where the tiles where used in a much more loose way then normally it’s done, not having geometric precise limits and normally leaving gaps that I would fill manually. I’m considering using this same loose system in the final graphics of the game.

Now to SAI’s high point, in my opinion: lighting. It has some features of layer blending that are really amazing. The one that caught my attention in the first glance was Lumi&Shade, great to create both projected light and enlightened objects. As the name suggests, it blends luminance and hue, helping in creating nice lighting effects. Another essential is PassTrought, that is applied to layer groups and allows each layer’s blending mode to interact with the layers outside the group. It’s quite important to allow the layers being properly organized.

So, at the end of 3 weeks of work (during which I’ve been creating 3 other background concepts, helping Bruno and Ingrid create the character’s color test vector files and already doing some of those color tests myself), the result of the Outside Yard is this:


Now I’ve gotta go, my trial period with SAI is running out and I must go buy it to continue my work. Incidentally, one more good thing about it: a single license costs just 50 dollars.

See you soon!

Tsar Update #003: About a month

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Oops! We passed a fortnight without an update. It was a busy fortnight, you see, so we had to abandon the blog for a while and for that we apologize. The last month was a very productive one, obviously more for some areas in the studio than for others, but everyone got relevant stuff done, either way.

Starting from the borderline between project work and administrative work we, me as the Director and Marcel as the Producer, worked on a risk management plan for the project, in which a lot of issues were addressed and contingency actions were planned. For the most part, this kind of work is barely noticeable on the finished product but it’s just as critical as developing good assets or game design to the success of this particular project (and future ones too).

On the Game Design front the level design and the game’s structural pace were thoughtfully laid out (which resulted on our most recent posts, as you can see) and all of the game dynamics were explained on the game design document (GDD) for further programming reference. We also made a very complete revision of all of the GDD chapters and sections correcting a lot of out of date information and other minor errors. I can say that we are at the 0.7 version of the document.

Ingrid, our screenwriter, reached an important milestone last week: the structure of the core script is done! And what does it means? Basically, that the game’s endings, introductory dialogues, main tutorials and important events which covers the core of the game’s screenplay were written, drafted and their vocabulary and characterization revised and polished. Right now she is hard at work on secondary events and side scripts.

Sound Design is now working on the conceptual soundscape, but the entire fortnight was used to detail the components and descriptions of the sound assets that will be produced, overcome conceptual aesthetic issues about realism and abstraction and also the preparation of professional sound production hardware and software.  Now they finally are past all this and are working on the assets themselves. Hopefully before this fortnight ends we will be hearing blizzards, bells, footsteps and the cracking of fireplaces.

Visual Arts started working on the background concept arts, to achieve a better understanding of the tilesets and the overall game tone as you can see on the image. Four concepts of different areas (outsides, the prison, a palace hall and a kitchen, of which a w.i.p. is shown here) are being made as this fortnight approaches its end. Color tests for the characters were also made, starting with guards and civilians.

And last, but definitely not the least, our lone (at the moment) programmer worked on implementing a batch of features into the game’s prototype, the documentation of past milestones and, of course, the compulsory bug fixing and code efficiency improvements. The generic class for all of the game’s characters was created and now the process of creating new characters and enemy classes is getting progressively easier and finally we have a playable character in the prototype.

We also came across pretty interesting new information while doing some more historic researches, but the update is beginning to become a wall of text. So we leave these interesting findings for another opportunity.

About maps, tools and paint. 1/2

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Oh hello there!

In this last fortnight the Design Guys have written a little about the level design of the Tsar Project. As Beto said, today I’ll show something of the translation of the architecture researches we’ve done and the level design created in the background concept arts. And even more, I’ll talk about a really great software we’re using, the japanese Easy Paint Tool SAI.

So, it all started with 17th century maps like this one above (a crop of a dutch map published in 1662 that covers the area between Beklemishevskaya and Nikolskaya Towers of the Moscow Kremlin). Those maps show us the Kremlin just after the start of the Romanov Era, when it past for several changes. The exact period in which we focused our researches for the Tsar Project is considerably blurred by time, we’ve had a hard time in finding what we needed to start the reconstruction of the palaces proper. It was then, and continues to be, a great luck and reason of happiness to us, to count with the collaboration of Julia Tarabarina, a historian of russian architecture and editor of the Russian Architectural News Agency.

With the proper orientation we’re able to continue the development of the level design, according to the architecture of the 16th century buildings, and start creating those schematic maps Beto told you about. The next step was then to translate plans, references and level design into concept arts. The point here was to create imagery that would both communicate the mood of the game and be a preview of the different types of tiles, textures and lightning effects that we would use later on the project.

And then SAI came up. A good friend of Aduge, a fish from the design college called Okazaki, presented me this tiny software (it’s installer being smaller than 3Mb) that is tremendously useful. As the name emphatically tells, Easy Paint Tool SAI is a user-friendly digital painting software. What the name doesn’t say is that, despite the minute size of the software and of it’s Tokyo based development team, Systemax’s SAI is, imo, far more precise and powerful than Adobe’s Photoshop and stratospherically more intuitive and fluid to use and configure than Corel’s Painter.

To be continued…

Tsar Level Design

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Giving sequence to the series of posts about the Tsar Project, today the subject is Level Design which is the development of the game’s setting and background from the most wide scope (location) to the most specific details (desk positioning).

The Level Design of Tsar Project was conceived after a thorough research of the Moscow Kremlin architecture circa XVI century, done mainly by our Art Director, Maperns. The continuous drive for accurate textual and pictorial information to compose our historical fiction made us reach a russian architect and historian, Julia Tarabarina. With  her kind support we managed to gather information about the building layout and structure, and architectural blueprints of that century and posterior ones.

Building from this knowledge we started the development of the Level Design properly, designing the necessary modifications to make game interesting but always trying to preserve the historical accuracy. The first step was to gather all information that we had collected by drawing blueprints of all floors of all of the Kremlin main palaces, in order to create a better understanding of the game space. These blueprints then were simplified to help the work of the game designers and programmers.

After this, we started to work on the game events, placing them on the game space. We also designed a huge mind map with all rooms and their connections, NPC placement, item placement and guard routes and routines. Both were also tested on our software prototype and Lego mock-ups. These maps also helped the development of the first background concepts which Maperns is doing directly on Paint Tool SAI, a very powerful (and cheap) japanese painting software which he will present on his next post.

I’ve been silent for a while now, but now I’m here. My name is Thiago, but you can call me Beto, and I am Aduge’s game designer. I will try to be more present on this distinct blog from now on.

Treading through the Kremlin.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Last time I spoke briefly about the Tsar Project’s themes of aloneness and patience and how they are thought to be integrated with the gameplay and other aspects of the game. Now it’s time to talk about the gameplay itself, more on general terms rather than on specific details. What it means is that I will talk about how the game will be played/experienced on a general level, trying to not spoil too much of the experience proper.

To begin with, Tsar is an infiltration mission.  The protagonist is an outsider, an invisible summoned creature inside the heavily guarded and tense Moscow Kremlin Palaces. A mission is presented, but it hardly matters, the character is where it shouldn’t be, and there are people that will attack anything that don’t belongs there. Thus, the game objective is quite clear: avoid all guards, civilians, animals (read: everyone) and reach your destination within a set time limit. Failing to elude the obstacles means a very hard time for the player, or simply failing the game itself.

And what means this character has to complete its objective? As said above, it is an invisible creature. No human can see it under normal conditions. Although particles, debris, snow, blood or and any other mundane object over this creature’s body remains visible. So it’s for the best to avoid getting dirty. And even if invisible, the character still makes sounds which can be heard by any attentive guard, so silent movements are still important. Also, the protagonist (it’s name shall remain a mystery, for now) is very athletic and agile, being capable of exploring the environment with great mobility. Now it may seems pretty easy, right? Not that much. There’s one major vulnerability in this playable character that enforces the game as a “sneaking mission”. The protagonist is fragile. Fragile to the point that any wound can mean it’s death. A direct combat situation is extremely adverse to the player and even if this character is powerful enough to kill or incapacitate most humans in one single strike, this kind of situation remains a risky gamble that should be avoided.

Another interesting aspect of the game is related to it’s time limit. The player has one in-game night to complete the mission. All characters (and I mean all of them) that inhabit the Moscow Kremlin have their routines and their stories on this particular night, as the time progresses. The player can simply watch everything or take action and see the results, whichever he wants. Guards will stand watch, workers will do their jobs, everyone will sleep, eat, or do whatever else people do. There is also a behavior system which conducts every character’s actions and reactions that will result in a very complex AI system, where enemy characters will not be as dumb as players are used to.

To sum it up, the Tsar Project is a stealth game where the player must elaborate routes and actions that are the most efficient to reach a destination without being seen or raising suspicions. Killing guards seems easy, but it’s not a very good idea most of the time (as it can cause a full scale alert, locking paths and whatnot) or going the most obvious and guarded route is not as efficient as using other sneaky and more subtle paths. When playing Tsar, remember: you are invisible, you are alone, you are deadly, but you still breath and is mere flesh and blood as any other. Better tread carefully.