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:

Sunday 29 August 2010

Why I hate "Cinematic"

"Cinematic" still seems to be a kind of buzz-word for videogames these days. Often scenes that are extra emotional or involving are called "cinematic". I do not really like this word and its usage expose many of the problems videogames have today. I guess some explanation is required. My two major reasons for disliking the word are:

1) Movies are not rolemodels
It means that videogames should strive to be more like cinema, that there are really important lessons to be learned by doing things like "in the movies". There is so much done in games the past 20 years, based on cinema, that has kept videogames from evolving. Linear and strict plots being one of the biggest. Because movies rely so much on being extremely specific in what the viewer shall see, it has standards that are direct opposite of what a videogame is. By having these "cinematic" goals, we have gotten things like cut scenes where all the "fun stuff" happens, quick-time-events and annoying camera angles. Games would have been far better off if these things did not become the design standards they are today.

2) Movies are not better
It implies that film is a superior medium. I would like to say that it is actually reverse. Film is probably the lesser of all story telling media. It leaves less to imagination and is the least fulfilling. Films do not require any real effort and leaves very little to the imagination. Sure, there are films that are hard to get and with very subtle imagery, but these are far between, and in my eyes does not live up the fantasies a great novel or piece of music can conjure up. In my mind games take all this a step further. While all other media gives us a prefabricated descriptions, videogames places us in living breathing worlds. I feel the difference is like reading about climbing Everest and actually doing it. Videogames as a medium is not inferior, I would say it is far superior than any else.

Does this means that the best games of today trump the best films, music and books? Far from it and quite the reverse. But videogames as a medium has an awesome potential. It would be very bad to let catchy buzz-words such as cinematic to stand in the way of fulfilling it.

Friday 27 August 2010

We just turned into gold!

Today we can proudly announce that Amnesia: The Dark Descent has gone gold! So what does this mean? Well, it essentially mean that the game is done! What is left for us now to do is to send it away to our Russian publisher and online retailers. We will also start to focus 100% on doing PR and make sure people know about the game. In less then two weeks it will be released to the world!

It has really been a long journey and Amnesia has been the focal point of our existence for quite some time. With all that work behind us it now feels very nice to be done and we are extremely pleased with end result. I actually enjoyed testing the game until the very end, something I cannot say about Penumbra. I feel we have bettered ourselves on all accounts with Amnesia and are very excited to hear what all of you think about it once it's released.

Thanks to all who have supported us so far! And please continue helping us spreading the word.

Below follows a brand new gameplay trailer about water, doors and being hunted. And if you are interested in seeing new environments from the game check here and here.