Posts Tagged ‘asylum’

Diary Of A Madman #4

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Whew, this has been one crazy week! So many things to discuss… It’s either complete months of silence or one week of grinding news (and there’s still more to come). Of course, the most noteworthy event was the first gameplay video from Asylum. This was raw, unadulterated in-game footage with the exception of a few crossfades. If I have to be honest, I was very nervous about this video; I had a hard time capturing the footage, squeezing an annoying 50fps out of my CPU (and yes, those 10 frames short of the golden 60 make a huge difference). On top of that, the entire footage amounted to 8 gigs so it wasn’t precisely lightweight. Converting those to a more reasonable size was another world of pain.

But my real qualm was the actual video. After watching it a few dozen times, I realized it was lacking. There are tons of things that could have been improved but fans were threatening our lives for some new material, so I said to myself what the heck and pulled the plug. One hour later I was literally floored by the positive reactions: retweets, likes, pluses, mails, forum posts… 99% of people have been equally delighted and scared by this video. Since several hundred folks can’t be lying together at the same time, I guess it was fine after all. And we have many features that didn’t make it and will enhance the atmosphere even more… For example, falling dust. I couldn’t get this to work on Windows in time and it’s a shame because this small addition is very effective. It gives the game a considerably stronger 3D feel. Also, those of you who loved the animated skies in Scratches are in for a treat as we’re working on some groovy and scarifying nighttime scenes.

Speaking of 3D, many people was expectedly disappointed to learn that Asylum is node-based (even though I have repeatedly stated this was the case). Yes, I know that fully 3D is nice and modern but there are several reasons why this wasn’t going to work in Asylum. In truth, there’s only one major reason: it doesn’t need to be in 3D. This isn’t a FPS where the environments are secondary to the gameplay. Those games don’t require players to explore every nook and cranny of a location, or carefully look for hints, for example, on a desk. Therefore, they can get away with repetitive scenes, reused props, and stuff. Players don’t spend so much time on these scenes; they either kill or run and move on.

Things are extremely different in a game like Asylum. Each single room matters and even the bathrooms are brimming with details. Of course we repeat some things, if not we wouldn’t ever finish the game, but the level of detail required is several notches above full 3D games. This is why the exploration part in Asylum will be so lifelike and intriguing. Going realtime 3D is simply out of our league because of budget and time constraints, but even if we had the resources, Asylum doesn’t need it.

Let me also state that the walking in the video was intentionally slow and that you can move much faster in the actual game. There’s also plenty of freedom in choosing your direction; everything is highly non-linear. Finally, as someone stated in our YouTube channel, the discrete movement makes the game feel even scarier. And I definitely agree.

One tiny little thing that also worried me from the video is the breathing effect that can be heard on the background. Not the one when the protagonist is startled but a constant breathing. Apparently this wasn’t very noticeable as nobody mentioned it. We’re still ironing out this detail; one of our goals is to make the central character always very present, and the effect fits. Add to this many thoughtful comments and you have a very fleshed out and intriguing character. That said, the breathing shouldn’t be annoying and I feared the gameplay video would give the wrong impression. This wasn’t the case fortunately, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts.

This is already a lengthy post so I’ll save for the next update comments about the animations (did you catch the ocean through the window in the hallway?) and visuals. In the meantime, because you have been such a great audience, I leave you these renderings of the Asylum in all its raw glory. Yes — you get to explore it. Every nook and cranny of the place.

Diary Of A Madman #3

Friday, July 15th, 2011

In those rare occasions I go out to the streets, people ask me about the status of Asylum. Shady characters in dirty coats most of the time, lurking in the shadows and speaking in whispers. They could be a product of my imagination (after all I can never see their faces, provided they have one) but I always respond them for the sake of politeness. I mean, imaginary people deserve respect too. But I’m going to assume that you’re real and want to know about the status of… What was I was talking about?

Right, Asylum. As you can imagine, it’s been a very busy period for us, and there’s so much to tell that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Perhaps the most important news is that the game has gone semipublic and people had a chance to actually play it. In other words, it exists. More specifically, we featured an early build in a local fair and visitors were able to walk without restrictions around a sizable portion of the first floor of the Hanwell Institute. The reactions were very positive and, even though the mood is kind of lost when you’re in a big room with dozens of people and loud noise, they were all clearly impressed. The game was shown on two big HDTVs and graphics still looked sharp and detailed, so I’m not lying when I say that Asylum really, really is high-definition.

Here, I have a blurry and completely useless picture to prove it:

Asylum @ MICA

Anyway, back to the inner workings, last time I spoke about the video system that was finished, enabling us to populate Hanwell with dozens of lively videos. Since then we have completed the first floor, which is the biggest one and therefore a very important milestone for us. All the doors are now animated as well and, if you’re familiar with Scratches, you’ll know that represents a great deal of work. It’s almost fifty videos of doors opening in the first floor alone, along with beautiful animations of the ocean waving through some windows, faulty lights, moving trees, water in a fountain and inmates inside the cells of a truly sinister corridor. And we’re not even done yet. When put into perspective, the sheer amount of work makes me want to cry.

How do we manage with all this? Well, in the first place, loads of coffee and illegal drugs. It also helps, as I hinted before, that the scripting language of the engine is deceptively simple. I’ve already told you a bit about the process of creating nodes. Now, here’s a quick glimpse of the process to create what we call a “spot”. It’s not a “hotspot” because it may not be interactive:

door =, {64, 424})

This means we create a spot object named “door” on the west face of the cubemap and we give it a set of coordinates, in this case just the origin. The vectors of coordinates can be of any length and shape, so it’s completely freeform (the engine itself makes sure it’s a closed region). And before you ask, we’re working on a tool to easily draw regions directly on the cubemap. But let’s stick to the basics for now. So, why do we give it a single pair of coordinates? Because of this:

door:attach(VIDEO, “vid_door_corridorb_hospital.ogv”)

We attach (and that really is the meaning of this action) a video file to the “door” object. The engine calculates the size of the video and resizes our previously created spot accordingly (with two coordinates, it was a single point). This saves us a bit of work as we only need to worry about placing the video properly. For now we support Theora for videos which is open source, lightweight and very fast. It has proven to be a powerful format (with a sucky API though). Overall, this is a very straightforward process to include videos in our nodes. But wait! Games need audio too… So:

door:attach(AUDIO, “sfx_door_large_open.ogg”)

Which I think speaks for itself. Suppose we want to make that spot interactive as well:

door:attach(CUSTOM, from_corridorb_to_hospital)

This links a custom action to this spot, effectively making it clickable. Now the only task left is to add this spot to one of our nodes. The entire chunk of code would look like this:

door =, {64, 424})

door:attach(VIDEO, “vid_door_corridorb_hospital.ogv”)

door:attach(AUDIO, “sfx_door_large_open.ogg”)

door:attach(CUSTOM, from_corridorb_to_hospital)

corridorb1:addspot(door) — Our previously created node

Easy peasy. And the contents of that custom action (in reality a Lua function) could be as simple as this:

function from_corridorb_to_hospital()

door:play() — This plays both the video and audio attached



Do you like the approach? Are you excited? Are you still awake? We think this is an equally intuitive and powerful method, combining many aspects of coding into one single concept: the spot and stuff you can attach to it. We’ll go over a few more options in future episodes of this exciting diary.

What next? We’re preparing a big update to our website in which we will finally reveal the new name of the engine, along with the first gameplay video of Asylum and “official” batch of screenshots. I’m committed to keep a good pace of updates from now on… Yes, I can be that naive.

Diary Of A Madman #2

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

I’ll never understand the Internet: post one screenshot that was already publicly available and in less than 24 hours it becomes our most popular post in Facebook, with an astounding 38 likes. On Sunday, no less. Now, start a developer’s diary, reveal a few exciting new tidbits about the project, post ANOTHER exclusive screenshot, and it gets 21 likes — nearly half. On Monday. Conclusion: does most people read Facebook on Sunday? Because if that is the case we might be forced to reorganize our marketing department… Unfortunately, since the amount of likes did not surpass the previous post, there won’t be a new screenshot of Asylum this time. By all means, if todays post surpasses 21 likes, you get a new breathtaking shot in the next update of Diary Of A Madman! Yes, I’m evil.

Anyway, I’m sorry that I took a bit longer to publish this new update but Easter holidays has complicated things a little bit. Many keep asking about the status of the project because, apparently, we’re in 2011 already, but rest assured that we’re steadily moving forward. It’s tricky to settle on a release date since there’s a lot to be done yet, but we are certainly preparing some exciting things to ease the wait. Remember that playable teaser I told you about last time? It’s just around the corner in fact and a few privileged ones have been testing the code with very positive first impressions. The overall consensus is that exploring the Hanwell building feels eerily realistic and is filled with “touchably crisp textures” (one of my favorite quotes). What’s holding us from releasing this code then? On one hand bug fixing, obviously, and on the other the inclusion of a couple of features that were suggested by our daring group of testers. If done well, this has the potential to change the way you think about adventures. Seriously, it’s that huge.

An aspect that has become very apparent during our testing is that Asylum, unlike most first person adventures (Scratches included), is really fluid. There are virtually no loading times, control is quick and smooth, navigation is easy, you have an amazing deal of freedom of movement — all in all, everything feels just right. At times it feels like a first-person shooter actually, which is pretty cool if you ask me — after all, adventures should test your creativity and intuition, not your patience with the controls. In this regard I believe that we have definitely achieved our goal because Asylum feels, in one word, “modern.” It’s immediately accessible, which is what most gamers seem to demand today.

Another aspect that remains almost completely in the dark is the story. Occasionally someone asks about this, a few shrug, and we all move on. I prefer to keep it that way. Actually, there’s quite a bit of information leaked about the story already, either through interviews or forum posts, so if you’re really interested you could put all the pieces together and get a pretty accurate picture about the premise of the game. I will only say this: Asylum is supposed to feel surreal, like there’s something horribly wrong going on inside Hanwell as soon as you set foot inside the place. Don’t try to make any sense out of it, at least not until you’re halfway into the game. If the premise of Scratches was that “a novelist escapes to the solace of an old Victorian house to finish his horror novel” then the premise of Asylum would be that “an ex-patient returns to a mental hospital to understand why he is suffering of bizarre hallucinations”. Think about it: that’s all you needed to know about Scratches before playing it (because you DID play it, right?) and this is all you need to know about Asylum for now. The script remains locked inside a vault and no more than five people will have it read completely before the game is released. Yes, I’m so evil.

What we are going to reveal soon is the cast of the game, and oh we have many surprises here. There are old friends from the Scratches cast coming back and a new celebrity doing a wonderful work as the main character. Hint: the first game that he worked on has been mentioned in this blog.

So no new materials released this time but I do hope to share something in the next update, where I’ll be further discussing the new engine and its programming language. Since my last post we have concluded the implementation of the dynamic music (and boy it’s dynamic, you can never tell when the tracks are really changing) and the video system. Videos were sorely missing in Scratches (other than fullscreen cutscenes, that is) so it’s truly neat that we have them in Asylum. Basically, this means that we can “populate” the nodes with an indefinite number of small animations here and there, which makes the locations look more lively. Anything, even drapes being moved by the wind can make a huge difference in terms of mood. And it’s as simple as loading a file and positioning the video on a texture. Nothing else — no obscure calculations or invocation of elder gods is required. Stay tuned for all the nitty gritty details!

Diary Of A Madman #1

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Believe it or not, I was trying hard to find a proper title for this post… When I finally found the words, I slapped myself repeatedly. Duh. Of course, this is none other than the Asylum Developer’s Diary: Unrated! that I mentioned a few moons ago, but that’s too long and definitely not SEO-friendly. So, Diary Of A Madman is.

To tell the truth, I was planning to launch this diary after a bunch of upcoming announcements since I feared there wouldn’t be enough interest at this point. I was very wrong. Just yesterday we had our 666th. (human) fan on Facebook and to welcome him we posted a screenshot of Asylum… that was previously available here on the blog! The reaction was pretty strong and within a couple of hours the page exploded: a dozen more fans, 22 likes and many, many comments… on Sunday, folks. Sunday! It’s our most popular post by now with a whooping 33 likes (a definitely strong impression in Facebook terms).

If this is the reaction towards a dark and murky screenshot, I can’t imagine what’s gonna happen when you see what we have in store here. Anyway, the burning question of course was: what the bloody heck is going on with the game? Hence the reason why I’m launching this diary today after many uneventful months with no announcements or new materials whatsoever. Hopefully you will find this diary mildly exciting, although I’m sure that friend developers will be very interested in what I have to say.

Actually, to be fair there was a further glimpse of Asylum during an interview I did with Matt Barton a month ago, more precisely brief in-game footage. Matt is a great guy and he runs what is hands down one of the best channels in all of YouTube. Make sure you check out his amazing work.

Logo large

Perhaps one of the more interesting bits of that interview was the shocking revelation that the engine behind Asylum is no longer called Kinesis. I won’t tell its new name yet but you can see the suggestive logo right here. The approach is different: Kinesis was too technical for my taste and reminiscent of Microsoft’s Kinect too, and I really want to set this engine apart as much as possible. In fact, it’s so friendly that I’m hoping users won’t even think of it as an engine but a very simple interface to develop adventures. Why I’m telling you all this? Because it will be made publicly available and free to use. No strings attached. We are positively out of our minds, yes, but this is in reality part of a much bigger and cunning plan. At the moment there are about a dozen developers assisting us in the project, suggesting features and improvements. It’s all very exciting and is gaining a lot of momentum. For instance, the engine currently supports node-based games. Now, this is how you connect the nodes:

foyer5:link({ E = foyer4, W = waiting1, S = foyer2 })

foyer6:link({ E = visiting1, W = foyer4 })

foyer7:link({ S = foyer3 })

That is, we use a neat feature of Lua – tables – to tell each node how it should connect with other nodes in the cardinal directions. This translates into an interactive spot that, when clicked by the player, performs the transition. Of course, the script allows creation of any number of spots, anywhere you want, and of any size and shape. More on that later. For now, you can see how easy it would be to create a very quick prototype of the entire playable areas. And creating the actual nodes is even easier!


Another aspect that is taking us considerable time is the music. If Scratches was any indication, you know that I take music very seriously. This time we are fortunate to work with Daniel Pharos and his Knights Of Soundtrack, a guy who is equally cool and scary. He’s the leader of Beyond The Void and WORSHIP, Gothic Rock and Doom Metal bands respectively, so I’m sure you know what I mean. We have devised with Daniel a very interesting approach to the music in Asylum. You see, the building where the game takes place – the Hanwell Institute – is very large and open, and players have the ability to move around it at will from the first minute. We don’t have a clear distinction between areas other than the separate floors (four counting the basements), which demands a more sensible approach to the music. It should be organic and dynamically shift as players explore Hanwell.

A great example of this is the hospital and cells area which are reached after a long corridor. To enter the cells you must first cross the hospital, and we’re talking about some very sinister rooms here. So, the short walk through the hospital should somehow anticipate the horror that awaits you at the cells in terms of mood, including the music. To achieve this, we’re dealing with a multilayered soundtrack. Each track contains at least three layers which, combined in a determined way, create three instances of similar music: mild, tense and horrifying. You listen to the mild instance as you walk through the long corridor, then tense when you enter the hospital, and finally it’s horrifying when you are in the cells.

Asylum screenshot2

It’s very effective, trust me, especially because you won’t know for sure when the music is really changing (that is, except for this particular occasion I’m giving away to illustrate the example). Thus, this organic approach to the music is bound to mess with your head. It’s tricky though because we must make sure that all the layers are always in sync and the shifts are smooth (for instance, to avoid a poor effect when annoying players enter and leave the hospital repeatedly).

I believe this how the old iMuse system from LucasArts worked, which is pretty neat. As far as I know, nothing like this has been implemented in adventures for quite a while.


That’s all for now and quite a big update for our first installment! What’s next? You can expect rather soon-ish* a new gameplay video, the first batch of official HD screenshots, and finally, the announcement of the engine along with a playable teaser of Asylum. Also coming up next week, it’s back to our regular revisiting of cult movies, games and books here at Slightly Deranged. And there was much rejoice!


*DISCLAIMER: My definition of “soon-ish” is very ample.