Archive for April, 2011

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!

Eclectic Sunday

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

At last we have a sizable update here on the blog! And look at that, I actually kept my word this time (marginally). First we have Creating Rem Lezar, hands down the quirkiest and most politically incorrect musical out there. Whatever you do, you must NOT let your kids anywhere near this movie. Then we have Thexder, a forgotten arcade of the mid-eighties, but a very special one since it may be the game that started it all. Honest. And finally, The Affirmation, arguably the best novel by Christopher Priest, a fascinating book by an extremely talented writer that begs to be read. Talk about eclectic updates!

Hope you enjoy all the articles! There’s more coming, and you won’t have to wait four months to get it. To those of you wondering, the Diary Of The Madman will return tomorrow with more Asylum goodies, so stay tuned!

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.