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…

On the violent themes of Lone Survivor

Thankyou for covering the game, Rock Paper Shotgun!  Having read the initial batch of comments I feel the rare urge to respond in some way, and that, rather than clog up the thread there, I’d leave them here.

First of all, I should note that this post explains some of the intent of the game which you may not wish to know in a spoiler-sense.

But I felt I should write it down because it seems that some people find the trailer unnecessarily dark / provocative. Which I can now see, looking at it another way. But I would defend it this way…

I tend to dislike games with unnecessarily-realistic / glorified violence in general, it’s a bit of a theme in this game, and others I’ve made… In fact this is the first game I’ve made with a gun. I’ve made a big thing out of the fact that you can get through the game without killing anything, and that taking pills, killing or eating rats is entirely optional…  and the game will recognise this.  I want to make a game where you think about the consequences of picking up a gun.  Some drugs can even be beneficial too though, right?  That’s another question I’m thinking about a lot.  It’s a game about looking after yourself as best you can, in a bad situation.  Some players may relish exploring the darker aspects, but I’m betting the majority stay clear, at least in their first playthrough.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played and continue to play games which are violent, as combat is so frequently the main mechanic… but I’m more choosy about which ones I enjoy now, either it’s light-hearted and cartoon-ish, or it has some purpose to its portrayal of realistic violence, besides to shock.  Silent Hill 2 continues to be my principle inspiration here, as the nightmares were things a man with psychological problems had conjured up, abstract and representative. Lone Survivor is not a game about zombies.

I remember being quite turned off by a popular game whose principal USP on the back of the box was ‘strategic dismemberment.’  Lone Survivor attempts to provide (far less realistically portrayed) options for committing violent acts, but attempts to draw attention to just how weird / disturbing it actually would be to do them through the text.

The game is slowly paced, the fights are quite rare, as are the few moments of gore.  I hoped that by making it in a very low resolution it wouldn’t be visually shocking, but it’s perhaps turned out more so than I imagined.

There is a very positive ending to this game, if you play it in a certain way. I want it to be full of hope.

Anyway I hope that explains my intentions with the game a little better!

Thanks for reading as always,


Lone Survivor – IGF Trailer

It’s really happening, the deadline approaches, and I got all I wanted into it.  I will write about what’s gone into it at some point, before pushing onto the final levels: I look a bit like one of the creatures from DARK SOULS (Dark Souls.)  But for now relax and enjoy the movie…

Lone Survivor IGF Trailer

All go for IGF!

This picture shows how I feel (this is the new exhaustion system.)

Just over three weeks to go… Will it all be done in time?

I know one thing, that the game has become something else entirely this last month or so, since I took a break from it. It’s really helped and I’ve come up with something that feels no longer like a remake of old survival horror, but more like a new mashup of various things that I can’t really put into a category.

There’s a real nurture element to it, you are now linked with your apartment at almost all times, and you’ll need to rest your guy there and plan your routes as it’s the only place that’s safe. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the picking of the right food for the occasion, or the right drug in case of emergency. You may be able to find your way around all the monsters without even harming them at all.

If you must take the pills though, remember to make the most of your dreams…

Soul Brother OST / Lone Survivor IGF

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to finally present to you:


Available for purchase on Bandcamp on 11/9/11, with iTunes to follow in around a month.

So, without further ado, let me tell you a little about the project.  When I originally made the game, I figured it would be fairly small, and not have many players.  That of course all changed when it was picked up by [Adult Swim] Games!  The problem was I’d used loads of really famous samples, and if lots of people were going to play it, there was no way I could get away with it.  (It’s true, musicians do ‘get away with it’ all the time, because more often than not when sampling, the record the sample appears on doesn’t go on to make enough sales to warrant the sample owner chasing it up.  I’ll admit I’ve done it myself on my drum’n’bass work, although only on smaller releases.)

So this means I had to either clear or remove the samples.  Removing them would have been simple, and saved me a lot of money, but I felt that, even if the sales of the OST were less than the cost of the samples, (which is quite likely to be the case) people would appreciate it as a labour of love, which it definitely is!

The Ins and Outs of Sample Clearance

I was asked by a friend to recount my experiences with sample clearance, and it’s been a long and difficult process.

In the end, I removed a great deal of samples from the intro track, which had load of classic early-90’s hip-hop vocals and cuts… It would have cost tens of thousands to license them all, if I could even track down who owned the rights.  So I ended up re-working the track with my own vocal stylings and a bit of vocoder.

The problem was that left Mr.Soul, the ‘theme tune’ of Soul Brother, and the track Mirko, both of which used samples from classic house track ‘We Can Rise’ by Copyright (strangely ironic name), on Defected Records.

Defected are known for licensing their samples regularly – in fact it could be said they actively court it as a source of revenue.  They release all of their tracks as acapellas in compilation albums, and for many dance music producers it’s quite a tempting prospect to listen through them when looking for a vocal hook.  I’ve used plenty myself, in some cases as placeholders I then get a vocalist to re-record, but in the case of these tunes, the vocals are integral to the hook and feel of the tunes… I just wasn’t prepared to compromise, even if it meant making the project at a loss!

The Process Itself

The first step was to negotiate the retaining of the rights to the Soul Brother OST from Adult Swim.  Normally you sell the rights alongside the game, but I was very keen to keep the rights as the music had already taken as long as the game at that point.  Amending the contracts in this way took a lot of back and forth, but we got there eventually!  Once that was done I needed to work out how much it was going to cost…

First you get in contact with the label who owns the vocal.  The standard agreement is a percentage of profit along with a flat fee for each track.  Once you’ve settled on these numbers, contracts are drawn up.  Once I knew the cost I could get back to [Adult Swim], and once they were happy that there weren’t any gotchas (for example, restrictions on the reuse of the music on any ports, sequels, movies, TV spinoffs… etc) they were happy.

The tracks then need to be ‘published’ – a term used to descrive who takes responsibilty for collecting royalties.  Fortunately I still have a publishing company from my drum’n’bass record label, Space Music, so that stage was fairly simple.

The final stage is then to register the tracks with PRS (the Performing Right Society.)  This is where the majority of royalties come from, they track public performance of music using a number of different heuristics (it’s all a bit black magic.)  But of course they can’t track tunes they don’t know about!

I hope this explains a little about the process to those considering sampling…

Defected Records

The Album Itself

Now I’d like to say a little about the album and where it’s come from.  There are 11 tracks, of which 6 are from the game itself.  Each of these 6 tracks has been majorly re-worked, improving the production, adding new elements, additional vocals and so on, and extending them, etc.  I originally spent about two months on the in-game music, trying lots of things that didn’t work (and trying desperately to avoid falling back on chiptunes!)

Since then I’ve probably put another few weeks into those tunes, and I hope you’ll agree that the OST versions are a lot nicer!

The other 5 tracks are all unique to the OST.  Three of which feature me singing…  Which is, err, quite a new thing for me.  I often put little backing vocals on my d’n’b work, and used to sing in indie bands when I was younger, but this is the first stuff I’ve actually released with verses and choruses and so on.

Some of these additional songs have actually been in the works since 2008, when I was first experimenting with electro-house.  Nothing came of it at the time and I shelved the music until now.  I spent another few weeks completely re-working these tracks to bring them up-to-date, and make them fit with the existing tracks.


So that’s Soul Brother OST.  It will be available for purchase from this Sunday 11/9/11 (in UK date format.)  For now you can head over to the Bandcamp page and listen, and make up your mind whether you’d like to indulge come Sunday!

In the end, it’s something I’m really proud of, if nothing else because it’s the first project I’ve done which I feel somehow bridges my life as a musician and as a game designer…  hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I did making it!

*   *   *

One More Thing…

I know this is going to come as a surprise to those who read my last post… but!


Wait, what?


Yes, that’s right.

After a series of long discussions, emails, and tweets from friends and supporters of the project, I figured it really would be stupid to give up at this point.  I admit, I panicked.  I really felt it was too full of problems to be fixable.  But what I’ve done is to break it down in baby steps, try and get to the root of what the problems actually are, and whether there are ways to fix them.

Well I think I finally have a good idea of how proceed.  So my plan is to go all out for IGF now (it was always the plan – I just bottled it at the last minute.)  I do have a tendency to do this: it’s the third hiatus on Lone Survivor, and even Soul Brother fell off the map for over a year at one point.  In the end I realised that this is my last real chance to secure a future as an indie developer…  and it would be foolish to blow it.

I’ll be totally honest and say that development funds are running short (I have about three months living money left, until I hit the emergency cash reserved for finding another job.)  So, if you’d like to help in some way, I won’t be using the donation model (I much prefer to sell something rather than just ask for money) – the best way you can help me is by heading over to the Soul Brother OST page, and purchasing it!  There’s a low minimum price, but you can pay whatever you like…  So if you really feel like giving me hundreds of thousands of dollars for your copy of the OST, you’re more than welcome!

Seriously though, every purchase will really help Lone Survivor along the way.  So even if the music’s not for you, you can consider it a donate button if you like!

Thanks so much to everyone who’s supported me through this difficult time.  I hope to have it finished by New Year, but if it runs over I’ll consider taking preorders to help with the final push.  Either way, I promise to not stop until the game is done, and put every bit of remaining blood, sweat and tears into it.

Yes, you can quote me on that!