Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Progress Update’ Category

Later this month, I’ll be releasing a two-minute cinematic prologue for Rise of the Hidden Sun: A ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson Adventure. It’s the opening sequence that sets the stage for the game by explaining how Jake comes into possession of the treasure map that leads to the fabled Lost City of Cibola. It doubles as a trailer for the game, too.

To whet your appetite, here are a few images from the movie:

Look for the whole thing on or around July 20.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

So, where were we? Oh, that’s right: Animation. This month, I’ll discuss the use of in-game animated sequences to add richness to your adventure game world and—

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Two years? TWO YEARS?!? Has it really been TWO YEARS since my last Adventure Architect installment? Yikes. Okay, I guess it has been a while.

In my defense, I’ve been busy. I bought a house, became a dad, and lost a kidney (in that order). But you don’t care, do you? Some of you are reading this because you want to know what’s up with Rise of the Hidden Sun. The rest of you are probably like, “What the hell is Rise of the Hidden Sun?”

I get it. This article—this cautionary tale, I should say—is for both kinds of readers.

A re-introduction

When I first announced that I was developing a game called Rise of the Hidden Sun, I had visions of it being the next Fate of Atlantis or Monkey Island. I was practically raised on those games in the ’80s and ’90s and had wanted to make one of my own for as long as I could remember. As a kid I designed countless text adventures using the programming language BASIC, and I always thought that some day I’d move to California and go work for Sierra On-Line, which at the time was the definitive adventure game publisher.

Unfortunately, Sierra stopped making adventures at basically the same time that I graduated from college—so there was to be no “Adventure Game Designer” job title in my future. That is, until I discovered Adventure Game Studio, a do-it-yourself game design program that was both free and easy to use.

So back in 2003 I decided to put my spare time into the creation of my own game, and I settled on a Wild West setting, an Indiana Jones-like hero, an epic treasure hunt, and a largely comedic backdrop. I spent about eight months hammering out the plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the puzzles in what is to this day probably the best and most polished work of creative writing I’ve ever completed.

You can read it about all that in the previous thirteen installments of this column, but the gist is that this game wasn’t going to feel like an amateur game. No, no. This was going to have professional production values from the writing and music to the background art and animation.

For a while, everything went according to plan. Using this column as a recruiting vehicle, I was able to bring in some top-notch talent from the Underground adventure game community to work on the game. I acted as the lead writer, project coordinator, and de facto art director, making sure that everything met a certain standard and had a consistent “feel” to it from artist to artist.

The biggest problem with any project like this, though, is attrition. People who volunteer their time over the Internet just don’t stick around to finish what they’ve started. (Just ask the nice folks here at Adventure Gamers, who’ve been waiting for this very article for a couple years now!) There are exceptions, of course, but they’re just that—exceptions to the rule.

About two years ago, at roughly the time that I stopped writing this column on a regular basis, I made the decision to start paying people to work on Rise of the Hidden Sun. I couldn’t pay much—I had always planned on it being freeware—but I paid what I could, and did my best to keep costs down wherever possible.

Obviously using my own money to fund a freeware game wasn’t a good business model, but that’s why I’d named my design studio after the U.S. bankruptcy laws: I’d probably go broke running Chapter 11 Studios the way I was running it, but I was determined to make Rise of the Hidden Sun the best damn freeware adventure game ever made.

Animation is the game killer

It’s fitting that I never got around to discussing animation before now, because the one thing I’ve learned in the past two years is that animation can be a game killer. If I’d set out to make a less ambitious game with low-res art or more amateurish production values—as, to be honest, I probably should have—it would have been relatively easy to find some pixel pushers to help with the animation, or even do it myself. I’m decent enough with Photoshop.

But no, I wanted the best. I wanted a Disney-quality production. So I held out. I searched freelance art forums. I contacted art schools. I looked all over for a traditionally trained animator or animators who’d be willing to work for what I could afford to pay. I was always pretty good at finding background artists and painters to match the style I’d established for this game, but finding an animator was a different story.

I thought I’d finally solved the problem for good last June when I began working with a professionally trained animator out of Savannah, Georgia. Not only was he willing to work for short money, but his work was good. Damn good. He was fast, willing to listen to my suggestions, and responsive to my emails. Together we made more progress on the animation front in two months than I had in the previous year and a half. It was a revelation. The characters in Rise of the Hidden Sun were coming to life before my very eyes. After years of searching, I’d found my animator!

Or not. Because this animator, like the ones before him, eventually stopped producing. Progress updates became less and less frequent. The quality of the work dropped significantly when he did get around to sending me something. Eventually we parted ways, and I was left to wonder (not for the first time) if I’d just bitten off more than I could chew. Could I ever get Rise of the Hidden Sun made as a freeware game?

If I really wanted it to be professional quality, it seemed, the only way to make sure that happened was to adopt a more professional approach—and that meant a for-profit model that would make it an actual business. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could embrace the do-it-all-myself approach and be the game’s chief artist and animator, which would ensure that it would get done—but would it even feel like the same game by the time I finished it?

So there I was, standing at a crossroads in the game’s development, and I had no idea which road to take.

Back to the drawing board… literally

I’m a few months removed from the shock of losing my last animator, and I’m still committed to making Rise of the Hidden Sun a freeware game. Truth is, I already have a career that I enjoy and don’t want a second one working on a for-profit adventure game. I don’t need the hassle of deadlines, either.

So for now, I continue to chip away at my to-do list whenever I can. A background screen here. A sound effect there. Here a new line of dialogue, there a tweak to a puzzle. The first of the game’s four acts is almost completely done, except for a few outstanding character animations. And, I’ve contracted a new and promising animator to take a shot at touching up the unfinished work left by my previous animator. Hope springs eternal.

Will I ever finish the game? Yes. Will it be soon? No, not so much. And that’s why I’m planning to “disappear” until I have something new to report. The next time you hear from me—maybe a month from now, maybe next year, maybe five years from now—it’ll be because the first act of the game is done and ready to download.

Kids, don’t try this at home

Me, I don’t really have any regrets. I’m creating this game my way, and while it is taking forever and costing me a small fortune, I know the end product will be personally satisfying. The fact that it’ll still be freeware will make it doubly so.

That said, if there’s one thing you should learn from my experiences, it’s this: don’t follow my example. When people say start small—do it. Finish a few little games before setting your sights on something bigger. Prove yourself before you try recruiting a team to build something more ambitious. That’s the right way to do it. That’s the only way to do it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go disregard my own advice.

This blog post originally appeared at AdventureGamers.

Read Full Post »

You didn’t think we’d abandonned this project, did you? Here’s where we’re at:

  • The newest version of the game engine we’re using to code Rise of the Hidden Sun, Adventure Game Studio, has been upgraded. The maximum resolution is now 1024×768 pixels, up from 800×600. To take advantage of this, we’re upgrading as well—by retouching and re-sizing many of the original screens we worked on several years ago. This is going very quickly, and has been outsourced to a wonderful and enthusiastic artist in Poland.
  • The re-painting is happening simultaneously with the work by our new animation lead, Wyatt Miles of Flash Potatoes, LLC. Many of you will have seen his work on Dave Gilbert’s Emerald City Confidential. Wyatt and his team are nearly done with the first two-minute cinematic cutscene, an animated movie that opens the game and will also serve as a trailer. I expect it to be completion in April.
  • Wyatt has also replaced Jim Peebles as the lead animator for our in-game sprites.

In summary: Work continues, it’s going really well, but no, I’m not yet ready to announce a release date. Sorry!

Read Full Post »

Well, this sucks.

After six months of hard work and anticipation, another era in the production of my would-be adventure game opus, Rise of the Hidden Sun, has come to a disappointing end.

First, though, some background. Buckle up ’cause this may take a while.

Rise of the Hidden Sun is a 2-D point ‘n’ click adventure game in the tradition of old computer classics like King’s Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island. I was practically raised on those games in the ’80s and ’90s and I’ve wanted to make one of my own for as long as I can remember. As a kid I designed countless text adventures using the programming language BASIC, and I always thought that some day I’d move to California and go work for Sierra, which at the time was the definitive adventure game publisher.

Unfortunately, Sierra stopped making adventures at basically the same time that I graduated from college—so there was to be no “Adventure Game Designer” job title in my future. That is, until I discovered Adventure Game Studio, a do-it-yourself game design program that was both free and easy to use.

So back in 2003 I decided to put my spare time into the creation of my own game, and I settled on a Wild West setting, an epic treasure hunt, and a largely comedic backdrop. I spent about eight months hammering out the plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the puzzles in what is to this day probably the best and most polished work of creative writing I’ve ever completed.

This game wasn’t going to look like a one-person job. No, no. This was going to have professional production values from the writing and music to the background art and animation. And for a while, everything went according to plan. I was able to recruit some top-notch talent from the amateur adventure game design community. I served as the project coordinator and de facto art director, making sure that everything met a very high standard of production and had a consistent “feel” to it from artist to artist.

My biggest problem since this all began, though, has been attrition. Simply put, people who volunteer their time on projects like this—particularly people who you only know through the Internet—just don’t stick around to finish what they’ve started. They’re usually good for about three months of work before they just drop off the face of the planet, never to be heard from again.

So, about two years ago I made the decision to start paying people to work on my game. I couldn’t pay much, of course—I had always planned on Rise of the Hidden Sun being a freeware game—and it basically came down to how quickly I could sell stuff on eBay to pay for the work-for-hire artists I needed to create the professional quality artwork I wanted. This was a bad business model, obviously, but that’s why I named my production unit “Chapter 11 Studios.” I knew I’d go broke doing it this way, but I was determined to make Rise of the Hidden Sun the best damn freeware adventure game ever made.

I’ve had pretty good luck with background artists who draw and/or digitally color the game environments. My track record with animators isn’t so good. But I thought I’d finally solved the problem for good back in June of this year when I began working with a professionally trained animator named Jim Peebles.

Not only was Jim willing to work for very short money—again, I could afford him just by selling my old comic books on eBay—but his work was good. Damn good. He was fast, willing to listen to my suggestions, and responsive to my emails. Together we made more progress on the animation front in two months than I had in the previous two years. It was a revelation. The characters in Rise of the Hidden Sun were coming to life before my very eyes. After years of searching, I’d found my animator!

Or not.

Because Jim, like each and every one of my would-be animators before him, eventually stopped producing. Progress updates became less and less frequent. The quality of the animations dropped significantly when he did get around to sending me something.

And then this past weekend came the final straw. He emailed me probably the two worst character animations I’ve ever seen. Sloppy, careless, and clearly very rushed. They looked nothing like the amazing work he’d done for me just months earlier. It left me with no choice: Jim’s time on Rise of the Hidden Sun was over.

Thus, I have no animator, and I don’t even know if I can use the good stuff Jim created because every animator has a different style and it’s hard to combine the work of different artists without the discrepency between their styles being obvious.

It’s left me to once again question my plan to make Rise of the Hidden Sun a freeware game. If I really want it to be professional quality, it seems, I’m going to have to take a professional approach—and that means a for-profit model that would make this an actual business. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could embrace the do-it-all-myself approach and be the game’s chief artist/animator, which would ensure that it would get done—but at a significantly reduced level of quality.

So here I am, back at the drawing board again … literally. I’m standing at a crossroads in the game’s development, and I have no idea which road to take.

Read Full Post »

One of the major tasks I’ve set for myself prior to the release of episode one is bringing artistic consistency from screen to screen and within environments as a whole.

Thus, a lot of game environments that were initially conceived and painted as standalone 800×600 screens are being converted into more organic scrolling areas that give the whole game a more modern feel.

Another issue I’m addressing is consistency of painting styles between the different artists who contributed to episode one during our first production cycle. For example, in some screens the underlying pencil work is really obvious, i.e. the colorist allowed all of the pencil shading to show through. In other screens, the colorist painted over the pencil strokes and you can barely tell it was originally conceived as a paper-and-pencil drawing.

This is what the old version of a scene (two unique screens at 800×600 each) looked like:

And here’s that scene reimagined to a) take advantage of the Adventure Game Studio’s scrolling functions, and b) re-painted to establish consistent color treatment throughout:

This also gives me the chance to make some tiny corrections and additions that I’ve wanted to do for a while. For example, when I designed this crossroads screen I hadn’t yet come up with a design for the town off in the distance. Thus, the town appears very generic in the original screen, whereas in the new screen it actually matches the look and layout of the town, which you’ll get to explore in episode two. Vulture Rock off in the distance has also moved to fit better into the geography of the game world.

Although these changes may push back the release of episode one, I think it will be well worth the wait.

Read Full Post »

As the saying goes, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. After nearly two years on hiatus, Rise of the Hidden Sun is back!

Why the long break? Here’s what I told the team when I made the decision to halt production in November 2005:

The reasons for this are a billion-fold, but the biggest factor is really simple: I just don’t have the time to oversee production of the game with the passion and energy I’ve put into it for the past two years.

My life has changed since I launched Chapter 11 Studios. For one thing, I’ve finally established myself as an adventure travel columnist for a major U.S. publication. Writing about travel takes research, passion, energy, and—obviously—a lot of time away from home.

My wife and I will also soon be buying a house and trying to start a family in the year ahead. Couple that with various other demands on my time, and it has literally become impossible for me to put the energy into this game that I feel is required to do the job right.

I know each of you committed to this game because of your belief that it would someday be finished. I stand by that: It will get done. Maybe not as soon as we’d hoped, but eventually. My passion for this story, these characters, and this game is still strong. It’s the time to work on it that’s coming up short these days.

Flash forward to today. Do I have more free time? Uh, not so much. I’m still a travel writer. I now own a house. My wife and I have a newborn baby to take care of. And yet… I still can’t get Rise of the Hidden Sun out of my system. I just love this game too much to let it go. Who needs to sleep, anyway?

So there you have it. Over the past few months I’ve rounded up some of the old gang, recruited some new blood, and dusted off the original design documents that made this whole thing possible to begin with.

And now, after two long years, ‘Rattlesnake’ Jake Dawson rides again!

Read Full Post »

This installment was initially supposed to focus on character creation and design, but I still need little more time to refine the visuals on our reluctant, rough-around-the-edges cowboy-turned-treasure-hunter. Instead, I’ll use this installment to fill you in on a couple of huge developments in the design process since the last time I wrote.

First, in the tradition of the Saturday afternoon cliffhangers of yesteryear, I’ve decided to release the game in four connected chapters (or episodes) rather than waiting until the entire game is finished to unveil the story. This required a little bit of rewriting (or, to be more precise, expanding) of the first episode to bring the length of the first chapter more into line with the others. But now that it’s done, each of the episodes ends on a cliffhanger that leads directly into the next installment.

And, when all four chapters are completed, I’ll release a compiled version of the entire game as well, with (possibly) some special features like a voice pack, behind-the-scenes concept art, and maybe even a sneak peak at the next big project on the way. (And if you’re wondering what that is, check past installments of this very column.)

I think the benefits of releasing the game in episodic form are evident, but if not, here are a few that come to mind:

  • First, we’ll get the game out to players sooner rather than later, rewarding both those who have been looking forward to playing it and those of us who have been toiling away for what seems likes ages making it. (And, bonus, instead of getting a playable demo, you get a fully working first chapter!)
  • Second, each episode will build excitement for the next.
  • Third, we’ll hopefully get another big promotional push when we release the entire game in compiled form on CD.
  • And last but not least, it allows me as project manager to divide the game into smaller portions and set up a reasonable production schedule in which everyone involved can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, right now a lot of effort is going directly into finishing up and expanding the first episode. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t be working on the rest of the game at the same time. I am dividing the work on each episode into different teams, making sure that when episode one is being worked on and completed, episodes two, three, and four are already in development as well.

It roughly breaks down like this: The bulk of animation, sound effects, and scripting work will be going into episode one, while the bulk of music, pencil art, and coloring will be going into episodes two and three. Episode four, while entirely plotted, has yet to be developed into a functioning game environment, so I am putting my time and energy on that front into creating concept art that will eventually form the basis of the background screens.

Meanwhile, you may recall that I promised at the start of this column to fill you in on two huge developments. What’s the second one? This time, it’s some team news. I’m thrilled to report that Dan Lee, whose amazing coloring work you’ve all oohed and ahhed at in the past, is stepping up to become the project’s lead animator for episode one. This is especially great for two reasons—not only has Dan been part of the project since nearly the very beginning, but he also designed many of the characters himself.

Dan is also developing his own custom sprite animating software to speed up the process. Expect more on this, and animation in general, in future installments.

Anyway, that’s all for this month. Next time, I’ll write about how I divide and keep track of the technical and not-so-technical work needed for each episode.

Next: The unfinished assets checklist (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Project Management)

This blog entry originally appeared at Adventure Gamers.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: