Monday, 30 August 2010

Commentary on Commentary

Since you people were nice enough to help us reach 2000 pre-orders of Amnesia: The Dark Descent earlier this year, we have been forced to record some commentary. This was not something that we had done before, but thought that it would be a really simple task. As always, it turned out to be a lot more trouble than we had first assumed.

Adding Commentary to the Game
Our design was inspired from the kind of commentary that can be seen in the Half-life 2 episodes and Riddick: Escape from Butcher bay. Essentially, it consists of icons that are scattered throughout the levels and when interacted with you hear a developer ranting. I first just wanted to have some kind of text-billboard that you could click on and that was it. Simple and Effective.

Then Marc, one the artists here at FG, put a really nice looking model instead. Now that we had a nice model we of course wanted more! So decided on giving it some kind of nice gold shader and started to experiment with this. We went through various versions, but it did not turn out that well. Unfortunately we could not have the gold shader as it was not visible enough in dark areas (something Amnesia is filled with) and we went with a more flat-shaded-thingie, that made it stand out more, instead. Now I also felt forced to add some effects to this and put an hour or two into making a part of the icon spin and radiate some "Waves" (that Marc made) when activated.

Final icon design when crosshair is over it.

Now, further complications happened. When playing commentaries, they could be drowned out by other sounds, so we had to find ways to lower this "background noise". Some of the functionality for this already existed, but a few new effects had to be added before it worked like it should. In the final version all background sounds/voices are faded out and the commentary is faded in on top of that. It actually turned out quite nicer than I thought it would and makes it extra fun to listen to the commentaries!

So that is how something I thought would take 5 minutes, ended up taking a full day.

Recording Commentary Voices
Before recording could be begin we had to find a some interesting stuff to talk about and this was not always that easy. We wanted the commentary rants to be short, connected to where the icon was and not require images or similar. So there was a bit of discussion on what to talk about. When that was done everybody were to write scripts and to read from these when talking. We had set a Monday as "recording day" and assigned all day to fix the recordings.

The first recording problem was getting the microphones ready. I sounded like a the captain of an airplane in mine and had to run down to town to buy a new one. Others did not have stores nearby and had put their faith into Jens to do some sound magic. To make sure the voices where free of smacking sounds and similar, we used the old trick of putting socks on the microphones. A set up that looked quite stupid and when my girlfriend came home she thought I had gone crazy, sitting talking to a sock-puppet (after all the crunch-time I put in this was not that implausible and I was already talking to myself from time to time).
¨Marc's attempt at creating a sound studio

..and here is Luis's (other rooms were too noisy)

When the voices in the microphones finally sounded good, only the actual talking was left. This was of course not easy at all. I think we all learned to appreciate the work our voice actors have made as we tried to talk make good commentary voices. There is so much to think about: Speak at the right range from mic, speak slowly, say the right words, do not spit into the microphone, do not make silly noises, avoid external interferences, etc. Whenever any of these errors popped up it was retake time. I think the last voices was recorded something like 1:00 in the night, after having started at 08:00 in the morning. Who stayed up that long will remain an internal secret.

Despite this rather strange workday, the voices actually turned out pretty nice. I know I do not sound perfect all the time, and there are some sound bytes, where you clearly hear I had not had water for a while and my voice sound like some deranged drunkard. I guess that is part of the fun though and most of the time we should be very comprehensible.

Final results
To learn how me, slightly confused, talking to a sock sound like, and other fun stuff you will have to wait for the release of the game! In the meantime Mikko, our extremely talented musician, made a little video where you get taste of some of the stuff we will talk about:


  1. Great stuff guys. We all wait for Amnesia now

  2. You know, I did wonder at such a generous and labour-intensive pre-order incentive. But I imagine it went a long way to getting those 2000 pre-orders. As much as people were already excited for Amnesia, there are so few games out with commentary systems and they are so fascination that it's impossible to turn it down.

    In short: can't wait!

  3. Personally I like commentary video. Like have cameras on the personal and mabye some shots of the studio and people working on it. In game Commentary tends to bother me. Unless its not the game it's self like what Half-life Lost Coast did. But Can not wait till the day comes for this game to scare me badly in the middle of the night

  4. This was a really enjoyable post. Hope to see more like these!

  5. I'd love for more games to add commentary while your playing the game not only from an artistic and technical side but also giving insight into the working enviroment of game makers.

  6. you guys make awesome games. I pre-ordered months ago. Can't wait to finally play it.

    Penumbra was great too.

  7. Well I can tell you that I wont be listening to the commentary... Until Ive finished the game the first time :D Then I will play it again and listen to it all.

    Seriously cant wait for this game, the days go by slower and slower the closer we get to that 8th of September.

  8. what are you planning to do after amnesia?
    are you opened to suggestions of thema for your next game? if so, maybe it would be a good idea to open a special thread in the forums

    personnaly , i would love to see a "modern urban" environement
    a game taking place in the night, with few characters
    and some elements of fantastic(i loved the game called vampire the masquerade bloodlines for this reason)

  9. I agree with ^ something modern next, abandoned towns

  10. I hope those icons won't show up by default, as seeing something so out of place will definitely break immersion.

  11. That was fun to read. Frictionalgames goes McGuyver - again :D

  12. I really want to listen to the commentary, but frankly, after playing through the game once I'm gonna be too creeped out to play it through again for a while.

    Effing Choir room.