Built An Indie Studio In An (no-longer-so) Unlikely Place – Part 5

•September 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Well… it’s been a long while since I wrote, but fear not, I will be more active from now on…

 

Right… well, unlike the previous posts, I no longer speak about “building” the studio because it’s been around for 6 years, so I guess either I am very stubborn, or I’m doing something somewhat right… I’ll assume I am stubborn. Another difference is the title. I no longer speak of an “unlikely place” but rather a “no longer so unlikely” place, because things have changed a lot in the last 6 years, although not enough for my taste.

Then Vs. Now:

I think the biggest change is the access to software. When I began in 2011, there were a few tools out there, but they were not the kind of tools that someone with zero experience (and zero knowledge of special knowledge). At that time I used UDK, because it was easier to use for someone like me, with no programming experience (thanks to Unreal Kismet). However, the funny part is that, even if I didn’t have any programming experience, I ended up getting some decent knowledge of Unreal Script, because Unreal Kismet was only useful for some things. Things like Unity were already out, but they required more programming skill than what I had, and there was also Game Maker, but unfortunately, my 2D skills sucked (still suck), so I had no other choice to go the 3D route even if it was “more difficult.”

Now, there are more engines to choose from, and Unity has become pretty much THE tool for indies or solo developers, thanks to the ease of use and the really cool ecosystem. I ditched UDK and moved to UE4 in 2015, but given that I found myself forced to learn a new engine (UE4 and UDK were vastly different), I figured I’d give Unity a chance. I mostly chose Unity because, in 2015, performance was vastly superior. Personally I am not much of very graphically-demanding games, so it was alienating to see the default UE4 level barely hit 14fps on my MacBook Pro (I also use a Windows desktop, but I like to be open to multiplatform).

However, not everything is cool. We still have problems trying to acquire certain technology (mostly things that aren’t delivered digitally). For example, due to tax imports, an equipment ordered outside the country may end up costing twice or thrice the original costs. Internet access is also a problem. There’s “fast” internet here, but “fast” here means around 10mbps upload rate tops. At least it’s better than the 0.5mbps upload rate I had back in 2011.

That alone can be a very defining point when it comes to making games. In 2014 I released the second game (more about that later). It was around 1Gb in size, and it took around 5 hours to upload. Now I can upload that same game in less than 20 minutes (people in civilized countries can surely upload it in less than 2…). But here’s the thing: it is not easy to spend 5 hours uploading a game, risking a power outtage, internet interruption, a crash (they rarely happen, but still), so it all becomes a balance of making a game that does what you want, but at the same time doesn’t take too long to upload.

Another change is government support and amount of companies. This is a topic for another day, but long story short, when I opened the studio in 2011, there were only 2 studios that developed games (including mine). Now, at least there are more than 2. Also, we now have access to certain government support. More about that in a future blog post.

Another change… platforms. Back in 2011 my focus was on Windows PC only. In 2014, with the release of Enola, I expanded to Mac, and shortly after I got access to PS4 and PSVita kits. So now in 2017 I can target Windows, Mac, PS4 and PSVita. Why not Nintendo and Xbox, you may ask? Well, I think it’s better to learn to walk before you learn to run, and taking on more platforms may not be so wise. I did talk to Microsoft once about the Xbox, but long story short, they don’t ship kits to El Salvador. I just mentioned the lack of access to technology. Well, for the PS equipment I had to go to the US and bring the equipment in my carry-on bags. However, the Xbox person told me that not only they won’t ship them to El Salvador, but they won’t give them to me so I can take them with me in my carry-on bag either. So the only way for me to make Xbox games is to use the WUP, not my ideal scenario (on a side note, it is interesting to me that, I know for a fact, that a company here has Xbox devkits, so I wonder what happened to the “no kits for El Salvador” when they were in talks…)

And last but not least… this may sound funny, bizarre, extremely awful, or whatever… In 2011 we were 2 guys in my company, and at some point we were three. Now, I work with a freelancer working whenever he has the time. I said this would sound funny or extremely awful because the idea is that your company should at least grow a little bit in 6 years, but in fact it shrank!

6 year recap:

Well, in these 6 years, things look like this:

Number of cancelled games: 3 (a sci-fi third person shooter, a sort-of-existential short sci-fi 3d platformer, a multiplayer 6DOF game à la Descent).

Number of released games: 3 (the game I mention in the previous part, which completely flopped, Enola, a horror adventure game that sold around 20,000 copies, and a just-released game in Early Access, which I mention because it can be purchased, even if it’s in early access).

Number of micro-game experiments: 3 (a top down weird shooter, a first person atmospheric game for an LD, a management game for an LD).

Same recap in not so few words…

After the first game released in 2011, I began working on a new one, titled Enola, and that one took the next 2 years to be finished. It was a completely different kind of game, because, while the first one was an arcadey shooter thing, this one was a story-driven adventure game similar to Myst, albeit very horror-themed. I think this is the game that defined the route I’d follow next for the new games, and helped me see what I can and cannot do.

Here’s the thing, there’s a saying that goes “nobody is good for everything, but you are certainly good at something). I am not very good at designing gameplay-heavy games (meaning games where it’s all about the gameplay feeling right, balanced, with tight controls and all), but I am very good at writing stories. That’s pretty much the reason why the first game was so bad and the second one was so great. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be able to design a “gameplay-heavy” game at some point, but it would take me a lot more than it would take me to make a game with a good story.

So, the lesson I learned from that game was to trully see what I was good at, and opt to focus on that instead.

After Enola was released, we (at that point we were six) began to work on a new game (the 6DOF multiplayer I mentioned), and at that time Epic released UE4. We decided to try to make it but the game didn’t quite “feel” right, so I decided to pull the plug. At that time, as a side project I was working on a basic “platformer controller” in Unity, and I decided to use it for the sort-of-existential short sci-fi I mentioned. However, I also pulled the plug on that one, because, even if I knew the story and the message I wanted to deliver, I couldn’t get it to “work” right, if that makes any sense. I mean, it was like “I know what I want this to say… but the message is not being delivered at all.”

So, another lesson was to learn when to pull the plug on a project. The first project I cancelled (back in 2011), was cancelled after wasting 7 or 8 months of work (and my own money). These two projects that were cancelled in a row, were cancelled in the span of maybe 3 months tops.

But since I already had the platformer controller, I opted to use it for something else, so I proposed this new project, a sci-fi horror platformer. At some point during concept, a dude said “how about Lovecraft?” so I began to think how Lovecraft could be applied to this (because, well, Randolph Carter is not known for his platforming skills).

We began working on that game, titled The Nightmare from Outspace and then retitled as The Nightmare from Beyond, in 2015, with the help of the government during 2016 (the same 6 guys I mentioned before), and this is the game that is now on early access. Since this is not a post-mortem, that’s all I will say about this game at the moment.

However… there’s something worth mentioning… you just read we were 6 guys working on this game, and that now I only work with a freelancer that collabs when he has the time. The fact is they other guys dropped out of the project. I will touch on this as part of a game postmortem I will write soon-ish, and also as part of the “state of El Salvador industry” post I will write, where I will also describe the government support and the other companies.

Something that didn’t happen on a specific date, but rather happened as time passed was the decision to go multiplatform (in a limited way). I said how I now have access to PS4, PSVita, but not Xbox or Nintendo. Well, the plan is release every game I make in those platforms, so no more “PC only” games. Managing multiple platforms is a very time consuming work, so this is where another part of the plan comes in: smaller, simpler games. More about that plan in the next section.

MOAR lessons learned:

Well, my biggest complain would be that it’s taking too long to make games, and that risks sustainability. Enola was developed from 2012 to 2014, and The Nightmare from Beyond has been in development since 2015. I am lucky to live in a coutry where living costs are not so high, but that doesn’t mean I can afford to develop à la Blizzard (“they will be done when they are done”). Oh, and Nightmare is still missing maybe a year more…

Last year I went to my first GDC, and there I attended a talk by Jake Birket titled “The No Hit Wonder: 11 years and still going,” and to me that one completely changed my view of many things, and made me rethink a lot of things (on a side note, I ran into him at this year’s GDC, I took a pic with him, and I told him that his talk as the one that had helped me the most the previous year). I know the kind of games I can make, and I know the kind of games I want to make, but the next step is to make simpler, smaller games. Enola ended up being a 6 hour game, and The Nightmare from Beyond may end up being as long (if not longer). The point is I suck at play-time metrics, so it’s better for me to focus on smaller, more manageable games. After all, nobody said a story-driven game must be X hours long.

The Nightmare from Beyond is larger simply because the team was larger (a team that later abandoned the game, so I am having to do a lot of stuff to make the game more manageable for 2 people), but if there’s a lesson I need to learn from this, it is to focus on smaller story-driven games that don’t require a mid-to-big team (bear with me, because to me, a “large” team is more than 5 people… a very different concept than the one used in developed countries where a “large” team is maybe 50 people). The problem was to think the “large” team would be around during the entire development, which was not the case.

I actually began to move towards that plan after GDC last year, but the “urgent Vs. important” struggle was always there (thanks to the troubled development of The Nightmare from Beyond), so I was being constantly distracted from that goal because “urgent” things. So, long story short, I still haven’t been able to completely move to this new plan.

So, I am finally moving to this new goal of making smaller games, while development of this “larger” game continues. To do this, I am working on two projects at the same time, something many would consider insane, but in fact it helps me keep my sanity. See, after such a long development cycle, sometimes I just want a break and do something else (or not do anything at all). Having a smaller game as a side project helps me relax and take those “breaks” from the game, without “wasting” time.

Takeaway:

Thanks to more accesible tools, there are more people making games now, so it is not weird to see people making games in places with no game development industry. However, there’s a big chance people starting with games will make some of the same mistakes I made, like aiming too high, spending way too much time making a game, or struggling between the “urgent Vs. important” things. There are certainly people in my country making some of the same mistakes.

So, if there are things people can learn from my 6 years as a developer, I’d say these are the things:

  1. Fail fast and don’t be afraid to pull the plug on a project. It’s better to waste one month, than to spend one or two years working on a game that is not going anywhere.
  2. Find out what you (as a solo developer, or as a small team) are good for, and focus on that. As I said, my thing is story-driven games, so it is very unlikely you’ll see me making a class-based Overwatch-like arena shooter any time soon.
  3. Aim for the best, but plan for the worst, when it comes to development times and teams. What if the game takes longer than expected? What if the team abandons the project?
  4. Organic growth, AKA, learn to walk before you run, AKA, start small, with small games and single platforms, rather than making an online multiplayer shooter game for PC, Xbox One and PS4 as a first game (true story). As I said, I began with PC, then Mac, and now I am taking on one of the 3 consoles, but I have no plans to take on the other two at the moment.
  5. If you can’t go to GDC, spend a lot of time watching videos at GDC Vault. Not just programming, narrative or art videos. Watch everything. They will surely make you think differently, just like the experience I had.
  6. Lastly, don’t fall into the “urgent Vs. important” trap. There are always “urgent” things, but the “important” things are the ones that will shape the future of your studio, or allow it to have a future at all.

I hope you find this useful, or at least interesting. Next I will write about the current state of El Salvador’s game development industry.

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Is The Joker really a just dog chasing cars?

•August 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but I’ve never gotten the chance to actually write about it. When I watched The Dark Knight for the I don’t know how many-th time, I noticed something. In the scene where The Joker is telling the people in the boats to blow up the opposite boat, he’s reading his plan from a piece of paper.

At that point I thought “wait a minute… if this is his plan, why does he need to read it from a piece of paper?” That made me see everything that The Joker did with different eyes.

Capture

For example, in one scene he says “do I really look like a guy with a plan?” followed by “I’m just a dog chasing cars.” But is he? He is one step ahead of everyone at all times (in his own words, “he’s just ahead of the curve”). For example, when he was captured, he had already planted a bomb inside someone’s stomach, and he blew up the entire police station, while sending other people to capture Harvey and Rachel, and counting that Batman would interrogate him so that he would have to make a choice.

That’s the most obvious example, but the thing is that you don’t need to go any further than the opening sequence. There, The Joker prepares this very complex bank robbery, with clear instructions to kill every other clown, with a very tight timing (this is shown when he knows the exact time and spot where the bus will crash into the building).

Another example is when Bruce finds the police officers tied up inside the apartment. He sets the alarm so that the blinds open, calling the attention of the police officers at exactly the same time where they were hoping to kill the major.

So, some people keep telling that The Joker was just a dog chasing cars, or an agent of chaos who just wanted to see the world burn, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case at all. I’d even dare to say that the movie was written in such a way that Nolan selling the idea that The Joker is a simple character with no clear goals that just does things “for the lulz.”

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Personally, I don’t believe in “evil for the sake of evil” characters because they are a cheap cop out or an over-simplification. I mean, can’t get any cheaper than “he does what he does because he just wants to see the world burn.” That’s not an antagonist. That’s a cartoon villain: You don’t need to know anything about him except that he’s evil, and that he’s evil so that our hero can be the good guy.

Granted that I am not entirely familiar with The Joker from the comics, but considering how grounded in reality Nolan’s movies are, I don’t think The Joker from the comics should be any point of reference: In the comics, Ra’s Al-Ghul gains immortality from his Lazarus pit, but in the movies, Ra’s Al-Ghul somewhat “mocks” the idea, unless he wasn’t actually mocking it, but telling him that Ra’s Al-Ghul is supposedly immortal. After all, he tells Bruce that “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend.” Maybe with these words he’s telling Bruce “the legend of Ra’s Al-Ghul.”

So, after this very long introduction, I am thininkg… What if The Joker in Nolan’s trilogy was in fact a member of The League of Shadows (or someone working for someone else, for that matter)?

The bad guys in the first movie are The League of Shadows. The bad guy in the second movie is The Joker. The bad guys in the third movie are The League of Shadows. In Begins, Ra’s Al-Ghul’s makes it very clear that they are not done with Gotham, and that they are back to finish the job. He also mentions that “their weapons have evolved” and that this time they were using economics (in Rises you could say they used terrorism).

Another interesting thing is that, in the same scene, Ra’s Al-Ghul says “create enough hunger and everyone becomes a criminal.” Two things, this sounds extremely familiar to The Joker’s quote about “civilized people eating each other”. In both movies, The League of Shadows plans that people will turn against each other and destroy Gotham from the inside. In the first movie, it’s people becoming criminals, and then people from the slums going all crazy to destroy the rest of the city. In the third movie, it’s criminals against police and civilians. In the second movie, it’s in fact “the people against the politicians.” There’s a scene where the people very pissed off that authorities aren’t doing their job, and it is valid to wonder what would have happened if that malcontent had risen.

In the interrogation scene, The Joker also says that Batman “has changed things forever” so that means weapons to destroy Gotham should also change.

At the end of Begins Ra’s Al-Ghul dies, but Gotham is still corrupt, and The League of Shadows still has people infiltrated in different places. In Knight, are the “corrupt” people part of the League of Shadows, or part of The Joker’s band? Did the people from The League of Shadows take a break and returned just in time for Rises? I mean, if there’s one thing that doesn’t “fit” in my mind is how the entire League of Shadows would go into this “complete hiatus” for TDK and let the mob do their stuff (which they were already doing in Begins), specially since the trilogy is a full sequence, not just “a random episode.”

And another thing that I find interesting is that, when the guy asks him what he plans to do with his part of the money, The Joker replies that he’s a man of simple taste because he likes explosives and gasoline…

And then he burns his money…

If he burns the money, he doesn’t really worry about how to buy all the stuff that he needs, which means someone else provides all that stuff. And how the blazes did he get all the resources to pull off that big robbery at the beginning of the movie??? Talia Al-Ghul, maybe?

Also, both Ra’s Al-Ghul and The Joker want Batman to break “his rule.” This could be coincidence, though.

The only problem is… The Joker wanted Batman to reveal his identity, but then he backtracked and said “you know… forget about what I said.” However, it is possible that The Joker simply used this as a strategy to ignite the “internal conflict” that I mentioned above (the people against politicians), because was counting that Batman would not reveal his identity.

I’m thinking The Joker could have played an important part in Rises if Ledger hadn’t died. Unfortunately we will never know. I do think there’s more to The Joker than meets the eye, and definitely, The Joker isn’t just someone who wants to see the world burn.

Or maybe I’m thinking about this too much because I’m just tired of so much work and cruch nights…

In (sort of defense) of Batman v Superman

•July 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Well, I’ve been pretty vocal that I really hated Man of Steel, so it should be surprising (or maybe not) that I generally liked Batman V Superman. I can’t say the movie was awesome, or cool, but parts of it were very enjoyable for the most part, I think it’s because, even if the filmmakers didn’t quite deliver most of the time, at least their intentions were pretty clear.

So, getting the obvious stuff out of the way… Lex Luthor pretty much sucks. As some people say, it’s like they were trying to make him some sort of “Joker,” but they completely missed what made him interesting (btw I’m pretty sure that in TDK, Joker was also part of the league of shadows because there are a few things that give that away… but that’s for another blog post).

Doomsday also sucks. I think Doomsday was a missed opportunity. I know that some filmmakers think that ending the movie in a cliffhanger is a bad idea, but I think it would have been really interesting if the movie had ended in the middle of the battle. Doomsday is supposedly a pretty strong character, but they finish him off in like 10 minutes.

Enough of the Super Man Jesus imagery. They use it so much it ends up being ridiculous.

Oh, and Jimmy Olsen dies.

Anyway…

I have to say I “somewhat” got why the two heroes were fighting, or rather, why Batman wanted to kill Superman (Superman pretty much fights because he has no choice… and that sucks…). The subject could have been explored more, but at least you really get this idea that Batman thinks Superman can be dangerous.

And if you think about it, it’s interesting how Superman goes to Batman to ask for help, but as soon as Batman starts attacking, Superman pretty much forgets why he got there and decides to attack as well (albeit not using his full force). It’s interesting because he supposedly wanted Batman to help him, but it doesn’t take him long to say “fuck it!” and throw a few punches himself.

This reminds me of how some people think that the Knightmare is pretty much a setup for Injustice, where Superman goes psycho and starts killing everybody because Louise was killed, and also reminds me that, in Man of Steel, Kal completely destroys some dude’s truck just because he poured beer on him.

So maybe Superman isn’t so “super” after all, to the point to let his “primal emotions” (or whatever you want to call them) interfere to the point he just goes into “fuck it” mode and do things a “super” wouldn’t normally do.

And maybe that could explain why he didn’t give a crap about destroying two and a half cities in Man of Steel…

There’s this part about the bomb that some people didn’t like. I think it was one of the best parts of the movie, because it helps us see that Superman “may not be that super after all.”

The bomb goes off, and then you see the face of a man that is pretty much thinking “I completely failed.” But here’s the thing, in the next scene with Louise he admits he “didn’t see the bomb because he wasn’t looking” (or something like that). This made me think about two things. First, the most obvious answer was that the wheelchair was made of lead (and people who watched the ultimate cut confirm that), but second, it reminded me of that scene in the 1978 Superman movie when Clark’s dad dies, and how he thinks he’s pretty much useless because, regardless of what he can do, he was unable to save his dad.

I don’t know if this is the idea Snyder was going after, but that’s the one I got, and that’s the reason why I think it’s one of the best scenes in the movie. When he says that he didn’t see the bomb, implying that he was distracted (or that maybe he couldn’t physically “see” the bomb because it was un a box made of lead), like thinking that his powers and all his strength were useless in that particular scenario (just like they were useless when his dad died in the 1978 movie).

Also, Wonder Woman was amazing. I still think Gal Gadot is too skinny for the role, but it was amazing to see her performance as WW when she was fighting Doomsday, and how she would show this smirk every time the monster punched her on the face, like she was going full Spartan (“a beautiful death”).

I have mixed feelings about Batman killing because I know Batman “doesn’t kill” no matter what, but the film constantly sets this idea that Batman might be somewhat mental, or that he’s “just tired of all this shit” so I don’t find it very difficult to believe this Batman could actually be a killer. I know Alfred says that “this is how it all starts” and how “good men turn cruel,” but what if Batman has already turned cruel, but Alfred just doesn’t want to accept it? I mean, after all, Alfred there is talking like Batman is some sort of paladin, not this cold blooded killing machine.

It would be very useful to know where this Batman comes from, so we get why he’s become this kind of Batman, but I don’t know if that will happen.

I just wanted to share these thoughts. That doesn’t mean I want to change people’s mind, but maybe you can see things under a different perspective. The biggest problem here is that, to deal with many of the things in this movie, you must “unlearn what you’ve learned” about these characters (for example, the part about Superman being mental), and that’s something that can be really problematic, because these movies are, after all, based on pre-existing characters and the source material should be respected, one way or another.

And that’s it. I promise I will write about why I think Joker in TDK was in fact a member of the league of shadows in a future post.

New project: “The Nightmare from Beyond”

•June 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Well, this has been interesting. We began working on this game nearly a year ago, and it’s been an “interesting” process… specially considering this is like the third iteration of the game (the first two iterations were more sci-fi than anything else, but we finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel when we decided to make the horror aspects more prominent).

It’s been a long time since I recorded a youtube video of myself, so here goes nothing, heh…

MOAR info:

Development Blog

Youtube

Facebook

Twitter

Horror games and shinny graphics?

•June 6, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been playing Silent Hill 1, and as I play I keep wondering one thing. Is it mandatory for horror games to have current-gen, cutting-edge shinny graphics, or can horror games get away with not-so-great graphics?

I don’t really play all horror games out there, because I only play the ones I find interesting, or the ones people gift me. For example, I play Fatal Frame and Silent Hill because I absolutely love the series, and I recently got the HD remake of the first Resident Evil game to get a good idea of another horror classic. I loved Haunting Ground, and I’ve also played and liked Amnesia (albeit not as much as I like any of the others I’ve mentioned). Someone got me a copy of Slender:  The Arrival but I completely hated it, then a copy of Outlast and I liked like the first third of it… so on and so forth, the list goes on.

Outlast is one of the better looking games I’ve played, but hasn’t caused me nearly as much horror as, say, Haunting Ground. In part because I found Outlast to be more of a “shock horror” than “real” horror (not “psychological horror,” btw, since that’s a completely different thing).

In other words: Outlast felt like the game version of “The House of 1000 Corpses” while Haunting Ground felt like the game version of “The Shinning” (crappy ending and all, heh).

And here comes Silent Hill…

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It’s a rare thing when a horror game makes me say “ok, this is enough, I can’t go on” because of the feeling of uneasiness (this only happens to me in the “Otherworld” sections of the game, BTW). To be honest, I got the same feeling when I was playing the first minutes of Outlast. More specifically this part:

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When I got into this room I was like “crap… I don’t want to be here, that dude is weird, that other dude is weird… and that dude is just sitting there watching the static? what the… crap… this place is horrible. I want to leave.”

If you’ve played the game, you know this was a pretty average room, meaning that it didn’t have any sort of eye-opening symbolism, weird creatures or a massive amount of corpses (I keep wondering where all those 1000’s of corpses in Outlast came from, because there were 100 times more corpses than dorms in the entire game). However, there is something about that room that made me wanna stop the game right there, and I kept thinking how cool the game was going to be.

It turns out that was the only part of the game where I felt that.

Silent Hill gives me this constant sense of dread and uneasiness that makes me not want to keep on playing. It’s definitely nothing to do with graphic fidelity and how well things in the game look, because the graphics are really bad for today’s standards; I think it’s more about the environment and the place you’re in.

Getting the obvious out of the way: it’s a combination of graphics, music, and sound. Yes. Music and Sound in Silent Hill is completely unnerving. The “music” is a constant banging on the head that adds to the whole experience.

But good music and sound usually wouldn’t help if the game looks horrible.

After thinking about this for some time, I figured maybe it had something to do with what the environment is, and what I expected it to be. It’s like two completely contrasting ideas in my head, fighting to figure out which one is right and which one is wrong.

You can always set your game in an abandoned something something, and the town of Silent Hill feels like an abandoned something something, so there’s nothing special. Until you arrive to the Otherworld (as I said above).

What I mean is this: In the Otherworld, you’re in pretty much the same place (the same town, same school, and all), however, it looks like a completely different thing. For example, you go to the school, and you’re in the school, but then something happens and it looks like you’re in hell, but you’re still at the school, and you know it because the layout is the same, the rooms are the same, but what was originally a school has turned into something completely twisted, unreal, and even hellish. At least to me, the game was playing with my expectations of what a school looks like and what that specific school looked like.

That doesn’t mean I’m advocating against cool graphics. Of course I like cool graphics as much as the next guy, and I’d completely love to see Silent Hill with modern graphics.

It just made me think that maybe horror games don’t really need those shinny graphics if they can find ways to present their ideas in a creative way. In other words, “if you can’t compete with visual fidelity, compete with style.”

Somehow, I always end up writing “weird stories”

•May 30, 2016 • 2 Comments

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Well hello!

I’ve been refining some details for the story of our current project (more about that “soon”), and I’ve noticed that it’s gravitating towards the “somewhat brutal and weird” kind of story.

*PART WITH SPOILERS AHEAD*

If you’ve played Enola, you either liked it or hated it. But if you liked it, then you know the story is extremely cruel in many aspects. When I began working on Enola, the story was going to be very different (originally, it was supposed to be this sort of Red Dragon and Hannibal kind of thing), but it became this story about sexual abuse and all that.

Sometimes I mention that Enola gave me nightmares, and some people might even find this ironic, but to be honest, I spent quite some time dealing with the “mental exhaustion” after I wrote it. The thing is, there’s roughly a 30% of story that never made it to the game, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, so I personally have a lot of information that I considered too much to be included in the game.

And there’s also the fact that I know exactly what happened to Angelica, and what they did to her.

Here’s the thing, you learn all these different versions of the attack. For example, Angelica’s monster says a few things, and Astrid says other things, but half of the things the monster says are a lie, but to know those things are a lie, I must know which ones are the truth.

Nightmare is inspired by two tales from H. P. Lovecraft: The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The key word here is “inspired.” The game is not an adaptation, nor it is a direct copy. It just takes some of the basic concepts of those stories (and other elements from the Lovecraftian lore) to make a story that is “somewhat similar” but not quite.

Originally, Nightmare was supposed to be a horror game with a “simpler” story, but recently it became a very dark and twisted story. Ironically it has quite a few similarities with Enola, even if the plot is different.

*END OF SPOILERS

However, it’s not like I didn’t learn anything from Enola. Yes, there are going to be a few “extremely brutal” parts in Nightmare, but not really as brutal as those in Enola. Also, I am looking for different ways to deliver the story (no more long “dialogues-with-myself” or extremely long walls of text). This means a lot of things are left to the imagination, and that should make things more interesting.

And last but not least,  there are no “women in razor-wire bondage” in Nightmare. If you’ve played Enola, you know what I mean.

As a side project, I’m using my spare time to write a different story (the kind of story you can even tell your kids, BTW). Writing is the reason why I got into games, but Enola and Nightmare are reason enough for me to explore different things.

After all, I’m still going to work on another game inspired by The Modern Prometheus after Nightmare is finished…

Now that I think about it, I went to GDC earlier this year, but I never told you people about it…

Too many subplots: Religious themes in Enola

•May 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

One of the problems in Enola is that there are too many subplots. When I began to write the story, I added a lot of different things that made sense because they tell you more about the characters. The problem is that, sometimes, that information is just left there.

One of those cases is religion.

When the game starts, you hear the sound of some keys and something else, and she says “I’m back!” When you look around, you see some keys and a bible, so you can get the idea that she came back from church. You also see a crucifix in her “art room,” and sometimes you hear her talk about a priest.

Meanwhile, in Angelica’s world, there’s a cemetery where you find her parents’ graves, and a “sorta-church.” That basilica was based on a famous basilica from my country. However, there’s a catch, the building has no cross. Also, when you enter the place, there are no religious objects anywhere. No crosses, no statues, nothing. The truth is that the building “feels” like church because of the architecture and the way things are placed inside (benches facing in one direction, the big space at the front). As soon as you go through the same door, the place is completely different, though. Also, Angelica shows Enola how much she dislikes the idea of Enola spending time in church.

The idea was to present very different ideas, but I never got the chance to really dig deep into those. You get the idea that Angelica hates God and religion, and that Enola “sorta-likes” them, but that’s it.

I think the story needed to be more focused on what the story was actually about: Enola trying to help Angelica overcome her traumatic past. Had I used the themes as a way to drive the main storyline forward, things would have been different.

Looking at the bright side, that’s something I learned about my first really-story-driven game, though. Maybe in movies you can have different subplots, but in a game like this, it didn’t work.

 
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