All hail the fearless, little Ginger!
I think every parent has a favourite child. You don’t let them know it, but there is one that always surprises you. One that reflects the best of you while still becoming their own person. Ginger was always my favourite. Not only was she the one I feel I finally modeled perfectly correct, but with the animation’s Laura made for her, she’s absolutely not like the other girls. Also even though she is 13, she is smaller than her little sister Rose… something she is not happy about.
In my original sketch she was more boy-ish. But I changed my mind to make her a little more flirty and feminine after revisiting a favorite film of ours:
The hair, necklace and penchant for playing with wolves are pretty much where the similarities end, I think making Ginger more of a little girl who doesn’t know her own beauty was a successful choice.
She is outgoing and active, and is a lot of fun in the game!
We’ve had a lot of trouble making characters cast shadows in the game. Our engine uses a technique called Stencil Shadows. Those can be created very fast on the videocard. Except that they don’t work with characters! So we always had to resort to a very slow software-based solution. In The Path, turning on shadows could easily reduce the framerate by a quarter.
So we started experimenting a little and came up with an extremely primitive yet efficient solution. Instead of using the deformed mesh of the character to cast the shadow, we modelled simple shapes that approximated the character’s different body parts (head, arms, pelvis, etc).
Then we render these in the place where they are in the game (at the position where the character’s skeleton’s bones are). It is this collection of simple objects that we use to cast the shadow.
Of course the result is a very crude shape. So then we blur the shadow to make it look pretty. Which is kind of a bonus, because soft shadows are another thing that is hard to do in games.
The result is realtime shadows that look nice and cause virtually no framerate reduction.
We implemented the last behaviour today. That makes for a total count of 70 behaviours. Behaviours are things that the characters can do. It’s a concept from the Drama Princess engine that we use in the game. And even though Chris Crawford is famous for saying that interactive storytelling requires thousands of verbs, we’re pretty proud to have exceeded the classic amount of 5 verbs (turn right, turn left, move forward, move back, and fire) quite a bit.
To be fair, there’s actually a few behaviours that won’t be used anymore, remnants of Drama Princess tests and old versions of the game. “Bow to Greet” and “Wave” are not part of The Path and “Dance” didn’t make it either. But “Move Happy” is still there, “Go Home”, “Chase”, “Act Sad”, “Drink” and even “Pray”. Many of these behaviours can be acted out by several characters. But some are reserved to a single one (often because of the limits of asset creation -each behaviour typically requires a unique animation for each character- or sometimes because it’s not appropriate to the story -things that a certain characters would never do).
In Drama Princess, behaviours are like little programs that run at the very bottom of the software structure but that are capable of influencing the entire game. I’m not sure if that’s a good idea -I’m not a programmer ;). But it’s very practical. And it works quite well. Each behaviour can be entirely unique, though several share common elements (like go to a certain spot, or look at an object -which , I guess, are extra verbs that I didn’t count separately).
All the behaviours we need for The Path are in the game now. But they are by no means finished. Many require a lot of tweaking and fixing. And we also need to quite extensively author the rules by which characters can choose to act out certain behaviours. As you may or may not know, all characters in The Path (including the avatars) are capable of autonomous behaviour (at least in the main part of the game). They choose to do things based on what’s around them and how they feel about those objects and characters. Since these feelings change, so can does their behaviour. A lot of our authoring now involves limiting the freedom that the characters have. Because they have no intention to simply act out our story. We need to force them a bit. We’re like the directors of a troupe of anarchistic actors. It’s fun, but…
I don’t even remember her walking into the room, but one day there she was.
I thought she seemed a bit too jealous of her older sister so I made her skirt longer than in my initial sketch. The lace I added later seemed to express her innocence but also the visceral quality of lace… kind of like veins.
If I talk inspiration of her character it would be Lain (from the anime Serial Experiments Lain) which I watched again for the thousandth time when I was planning the characters. I loved the hairstyle so much I made a variation for Rose. Here, the intro to the show:
And then in the course of looking through all the amazing artists work out there I must say one thats stuck with me is Esao Andrews… he deserves a separate Inspirations post but for now I’ll leave you with this painting.
It’s the first of September. A crucial date in our schedule. 1 September was the deadline for asset creation, the day when all elements (3D assets, textures and sounds, as well as software systems and interfaces) should be in the game, in some form or other. I’m afraid to say that we did not make this deadline. There’s still a whole month of work to get the remaining assets made and put into the game. Laura continued to create animations through August and Jarboe and Kris made some wonderful music for the game. But the animations are still being tweaked and we need some more music as well. So that process continues as well as our own. Auriea has finally found the time to start working on the interior of Grandmother’s House (the one big remaining asset creation job) and after months of spending most of my time in tools, I am pleased to finally return to the game and work on the actual game code. Tweaking the rotation speed of the characters feels so much more like making progress than importing hundreds of animations.
There’s still a lot to be done before we can really start authoring. Even though we’re already starting with some of that in between the other work. Sadly, our budget is so limited that we cannot add extra time to our schedule. We briefly considered selling a distribution license to a publisher, to raise extra cash from advances on sales, so we could add a few more months to the schedule. But we’ve decided against that and do it the punk way instead. It’s not just the money anyway. As much as we love working on The Path, we also want it to be done one day and to show it to an audience. So we’ll just have to work extra hard and extra efficient. And be smart about what we put in the game: carefully consider the balance between creation effort and experience impact of each element.
The good news is that we’ve been very frugal. For the first time in the history of the project, the balance figure at the bottom of our budget spreadsheet is not red. Meaning we will actually have enough money to make it to the end of production.
We’ve also been thinking about marketing (sales are a constant worry since we have this Sword-of-Damocles-loan that we need to start paying back as soon as we’re done). And even though we’re eager to show our work to the world, we think it will be best that we take our time to prepare said world. And also to give ourselves a break, I guess. We want to finish the game completely and then not release it. But instead take the time to create nice renders, screenshots and videograbs and publish those instead. Maybe have some journalists preview the game, to get a better idea of how to approach marketing. Show it to friends. Just decorate the kid’s room before the baby comes. We’re aiming for birth in Spring.
But first there’s a lot of hard labour to be done!
This journal chronicles the making of The Path, a single player horror game developed by Tale of Tales, the game was released in March 2009 and can be downloaded via this website! Contributors to this journal are the game’s main creators Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn.
We hope you will enjoy our candid revelations about the work process. But we do want to warn you that if you truly want to experience The Path fresh, you might want to avoid reading these pages. We cannot garantee spoiler-free content!