It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

It’s nearly there.

The Genesis of a Survival Horror

2004

On my hard drive as ‘mygame.app’, for Mac OS Classic.  The beginnings of a point’n’click adventure around the concept of dream-logic.  Learning to code after 10 years out.

2005-6

Began to develop the editor I use for Lone Survivor (at least, the point’n’click side of it.)  At this time I was re-doing the art in 3D, and the game had a name: Amnesia.  Which as you can guess was never released (although another one was!)

2008

Made Soundless Mountain II for a one-month competition, using my ‘platform engine’, a separate framework.  Getting much more interested in survival horror as a new direction for Amnesia.  Or maybe a hybrid approach…

Began building Amnesia engine 2.0 – a hybrid of platformer and point’n’click engines, all powered by the scripting language.  Initially in XNA, then I reverted to my original plan of using BlitzMax. Began to develop complex lighting treatments, a simpler implementation of which still exists in LS.

It initially looked like this…

Then this…

Then this…

2009

And finally this…

The bedroom has been part of the plan since the start.  I spent a lot of time getting it right, then ended up with something much plainer in the end.

But it was getting too ambitious.  Each treatment more elaborate than the first.  I abandoned Amnesia at that point, and to contain my disappointment, I decided to work on something that was small, silly, manageable*.

Thus was born LONE SURVIVOR.

It was to be one level, one weapon, one enemy, simple survival mechanics.  Everything Amnesia wasn’t.

First three mockups I recently found, probably done on the first day of development.

I’ll share the development images in the next post hopefully.

*SPOILER It didn’t turn out small, silly or manageable.  It turned into Amnesia, but at least I’ve finally made it now.

“You should just relax and try to enjoy it.”

It’s not often you get the chance to finish up a three year project, and I’ve found there comes a point when the end is in sight, and with it a psychological hurdle.  Do you have what it takes to push through the hardest part?  Is the project all you hoped it would be?

I’ve taken more than six weeks off Lone Survivor. The first three weeks were due to sciatica, a trapped nerve in the back which means you can’t really do much.  After that I tried to go back to work but felt the pain coming back. I was quite out of love with the game at this point too – almost unsure if I wanted to finish it.  I loaded it up and played it but I couldn’t see past all the stress the last few months had given me (basically I was burnt out.)  I couldn’t really stand the sight of it at that point.

So I took another three weeks off, relaxing, getting well, playing some DARK SOULS (and Demon’s Souls again,) spending much needed quality time with my wife and daughter, and yes, I admit, working on a secret side project.  Which I’m super excited about (and will reveal when this is all over.)  But I’m putting it back to the side now, as the final crunch begins…

My wife and daughter are off to Japan tomorrow for six weeks, and in that time I’ve resolved to finish Lone Survivor!

Michael ‘brog‘ Brough said to me: “Trust your past self, stick by the choices you made when your head was clearer, don’t let the stress throw you off.”  I appreciated that advice, it was what I needed to hear, I think.

I loaded it up again today, for the first time in three weeks, and finally I saw it with fresh eyes.  When I used to make music as my career, sometimes it would take going to bed to do that (for the ears, I mean.)  But with a massive game, it takes six weeks apparently.  I suddenly decided, from the list of hundreds of suggestions I’ve had from feedback, to pick a few key things I think will improve it, focus on them, and add no new features besides them.  I’m going to work on the combat in particular.  That and take a good look at the level design, in terms of stealth, so I make the best use of my resources, and make the two key mechanics as satisfying as they can be.

Besides that it’s the endings, and I have them pretty much figured out scene-by-scene now.  Although I’m going to trim them down to the minimum too.  I actually want a short ending after the conclusion of the city, it feels right for the game.

Anyway, for now, as Benzido says…

BONUS:  City artwork-in-progress I was gonna use for a behind the scenes, but I honestly don’t think I have time for that now (postmortem perhaps?)

Sick Puppy

Just to say why the feeds have gone quiet in recent weeks… I’ve had to take a little time off due to various ailments, and when I tried going back to work on LS I relapsed.  For that reason I’m going to take until the new year off, or at least just gently planning the rest of the work.  That way, when I get onto the final short push, I’ll be rested and ready.

Hope you all have a great 2012.  Hope Lone Survivor will be with you soon into it!

Metamorphosis

The world has changed enormously in the past couple of weeks.

For me, the city is now the most exciting part, it brings together all the mechanics in new combinations, and requires a lot of improvisation to get through.  There are also more choices as to where to look for supplies, so each playthrough will have quite a different feel.

The art and atmosphere are very different, it’s lonely and bleak, instead of cramped, putrid and claustophobic.  Hopefully it’ll provide a well-needed change in pace when the player arrives.

My good friend, Stephen ‘increpare‘ Lavelle came round yesterday (you should but his new game, English Country Tune, because it’s beautiful), and was the first person to test it yesterday.  It took about an hour, even though I gave a lot of prompts – partly because things needed polish in the level design and AI, but also because we just wanted to get through it quicker.  It would probably take longer without me backseat-playing, and that’s without even going into the sidequests.  I’m surprised and pleased about this because I was concerned the game wasn’t long enough… But it’s looking like it’ll be at least 2/3 the size of game like Silent Hill 2, if the player explores some of the optional stuff.

So, what else?  A lot of new items, puzzles fully implemented in the city, most of the sidequests, improvements to monster AI, meat-handling etc, adding of coloured text (which you can see above.)

Besides that, I’ve spent a lot of time on the climax of the city area, a very cool boss encounter and the final scene which leads to the final environment (which I’m going to start midway through next week.)

Also, I know I said I was going to do a dev-diary – well I have the video camera now, I’m just trying to get the right tripod / setup to do it, but it shouldn’t be long.  Will have to be soon, though, as I might actually finish game itself within a month or so, with beta phase / polish early next year as planned…

We’re nearly there folks…  Keep the fingers crossed everything goes smoothly and I’ll have a nice psychological survival adventure for you early next year!  I genuinely can’t wait to share it with you.

The Last Street

It’s been another really productive week.  In fact, content has gone in so fast I’m playing Lone Survivor and it’s different every time!  I must say, despite the stress and exhaustion, I’m really happy with this part of the game.  It’s a chance to use all the skills and mechanics the player has learnt up to this point, it’s a lot less linear than the other areas, there are multiple solutions to how to get from A to B…

There are two rooms which actually have a mini-challenge in them You can repeat, because the idea of the city is to stock up on resources before entering the final level.  One of these gives random loot which is a lot of fun, the other is a place where you can stock up on a different commodity, or trade things, much like an earlier room (cryptic at all?)

The city itself is really important to the plot in a visual sense. I’m leaving a lot of clues around.  There is actually about 30% more background art than there was two weeks ago, to give you an idea of how much my drawing claw aches.

All that’s left to paint and script are three locations, which leaves just under two weeks this month to add:

- A new enemy.

- A couple of cutscenes and a ‘boss sequence.’

- Extend the parallel story arcs which begin in the first 2/3 of the game (for characters you can revisit, the radio, the diary etc.)

- … before starting on the final level (whose location I can’t reveal!)

Anyway, I don’t often write down the specifics of what I do on this blog, I tend to leave those on devlogs, such as on TIGsource… but I thought I’d share every stage of the process from now until completion, once a week if possible, as a kinda motivating factor.

It’s sooo hard to keep up the urge to push onward, when evey day you’re making a tiny dent on this terrifyingly huge list…  But breaking it down helps, and I think my setting milestone deadlines is also the right thing to do for the project, as it’s a game that’s in danger of attempting to include simulations of pretty much everything (I have a toothbrush item drawn, for example.  I’d definitely add shaving if I could – although it would be hard to show visible without You’s mask.  Deadly Premonition flies perhaps?)

I’ve decided I can easily release the game in a tighter form, and add additional ways to look after You, sidequests and so on, without throwing the balance of the game off, at a later stage.  I’m still going to put in everything I realistically can, though.

Next week I’ll try and share some behind-the-scenes stuff, to show you how it’s all put together.  I’ve been meaning to do this a long time, and if I write it down here, I may feel guilty enough that I have to do it!

The Fog

The ending of the game has always been foggy, both literally and figuratively.  The city is foggy, partly for atmosphere, partly for reasons other than atmosphere, and the endings I’ve always only know vaguely what I wanted to do… but now comes the time I need to work out the specifics and weave them into the last 1/3 the game as I create it.

The fog seen from inside.  Needed to make a special kind for this room which is one of the few where the perspective flips to show the door you came in from.

Don’t expect clear answers or explanations in this game – you’ll have to go searching quite deeply for them, and you may form a different but equally valid interpretation to my own (which I will try to keep secret, and not impose within the game.)

That said, I have figured out what it is I am prepared to reveal to the player, and the rough form of the endings now, which is actually a massive psychological hurdle to get past for me.

One such location, Superflat World, from my previous entry.  Can you see what’s playing?

I’m still on schedule, but very exhausted.  I’ve worked between 12 and 18 hours a day on LS for around four months now.  If it actually sells, I’ve had to promise my wife and daughter I’m never going to put them through this again!

As to what I’ve actually been making, a lot of time has gone on two crucial cutscenes in the city area, and different versions of them depending on certain factors.

Looking forward, there is one more major thread to be introduced via the final character in the game, who links certain things together in the story.

Also in the city will be a new kind of creature, (something I’ll be working on next week), as well as drawing more actual locations and adding them in.  Other than that it’s just a case of implementing all the puzzles I have planned, the set pieces, the music, the art and the scripting in the city, and then hopefully moving onto the final environment as planned at the start of December.

If I finish ahead of December I’ll try to get more sidequest stuff in with any spare time I have.  I am considering holding back certain ideas rather than do them half-heatedly, and using them in a post-release free update.  I think people would rather see it sooner, and without half-finished things in it and a bit later…

What do you think?

Daunting Door

For the last six months, I’ve been ‘just about to start the city’ environment in Lone Survivor.  Instead I’ve been honing the first three worlds to a finished standard, gradually adding, changing and even dropping mechanics.  The game has got a lot wider, but very little longer.

The IGF version I put together, as with all the others since before my Indiecade entry, ended with You stepping out of the Wing Court Apartments onto the street for the first time.  That door has always led nowhere, and that fact has become increasingly daunting.

Well I’ve finally broken that barrier, and I’m working hard on the new area.  It took a long time to work out the scope, and eventually the map I was going to use.  It’s still likely to change as I have a time-budget now I can’t really afford to run over, so cuts will be made if need be to simply get this game out the door!  There’s plenty of stuff to do in LS already, so I’m not going to pad the content out if it doesn’t need it either.

So in the city I plan on having a couple more sidequests like the coffee ones.  Even though these are not crucial to beating the game, and add time to development, the flavour they add I think is essential to the game’s subtext.  My inspiration is definitely Deadly Premonition in this respect, a game I loved very dearly.  In fact the more this project rolls on, the more I realise I’ve subconsciously been influenced by its mechanics – not just the coffee!

Outside Superflat World

The Fixed-plot / Replay Dichotomy

Somehow I managed to maintain the adrenaline post-IGF-deadline, I’m sure I’ll crash horribly at some point and have to take a week off, but I’ve been expecting that… Just figured I’d ride the wave of inspiration while it’s there!  I have at least been taking some quality time with the family, and with DARK SOULS.

So while I was putting together that build, a load of new ideas started to form, particularly thinking along the lines of what the metagame was, and what I could do to tease out the replayability element.  I don’t think all games need this, and for the most part with story-led games, I think it’s actually fairly pointless (except for the awesome Silent Hill ‘UFO’ / ‘Dog’ endings.  I probably have something like that planned.)

Anyway, not so with Lone Survivor, or so I hope.  Although my work tends to be fairly tightly scripted, for once I see a game where the story is loose enough to work in a number of different ways.  The story focusses on the minutiae, the details of the daily routine, and this can vary enormously without affecting the plot.

There’s been a lot of interest from Minecraft players since the trailer was retweeted by Notch, and that’s made me look at another element of it – the survival itself.  I hadn’t even considered that really the game partly fits into this new category of indie games with survival elements, and it made me wonder if I could take this aspect even further.  To that end I’ll be introducing a few pseudo-random elements into the world over the next few weeks, as well as focussing on the earlier survival ideas I never got round to implementing, and a few new ones…

I’ve already got the stove in the apartment working, and that’s really gonna help cheer up You’s world, along with a number of other cool items which almost work in a side-quest manner.  Well, the less I reveal the better I think, but this should give you an idea of where I’m heading with it.

Where the game differs massively from Minecraft and other survival games such as Terraria or Project Zomboid is that it is mostly linear adventure, with a fixed plot.  The ending is determined by how you play, but there are fixed scenes and puzzles.  It’s the details that change, as there’s a lot of (seemingly) pointless stuff to do in the world.  Although you’ll have to believe me when I say that everything you can do has some purpose!

I’m keen that people don’t try to ‘figure out / exploit’ the system, at least on their first playthrough.  That they just explore, play naturally, and see what happens.  Those that read my blog and twitter feeds will probably have much more of an idea of what the underlying systems are, but I think for the most part people will approach it like a normal survival horror game, which I’m kinda banking on for it to have its full effect.

Special Fruit Salad

I got the game into the IGF compo on time!  With loads more features than planned!

One of the main things I got into the IGF build was the mirror evaluation system.  Mirrors act as save points, and when you look in them You previously only gave a single line of text.  Now he will show you when his mental condition is worsening.  I must say it’s quite an unsettling effect, if you begin to play the game in a certain way…  It’s starting to feel more and more like an RPG in some ways: you can roleplay in different ways, and the result is quite a different game each time.  (Having tested for so many 1000′s of hours it’s nice to see some variety in each replay!)

Put a lot more time into the diary and radio which give hints.  They provide a recap and a short term goal / long-term goal respectively.  They still need more work, but they really help with the key points people were getting stuck in feedback I’m recieved.

The other main thing I spent time on was balancing, the placement of food items, the mental costs of things, the exhaustion costs of things, the combat ins and outs, the food values of things…

I also added ‘special fruit salad.’  In the following weeks, as well as adding new areas and a few new surprise items for stealth-play, I’m going to focus on the food-crafting aspect of the game.  There will be a way to activate You’s stove in his apartment, is all I’m sayin’.

Today I’m gonna try and relax…