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October 30, 2014, 07:11:34 AM
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Samuel
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« on: July 01, 2014, 10:10:55 AM »

Hello everyone!

I am Sam, game designer and audio designer for Ruah. That's also our Team name. We are a six man student team at Games Academy in Berlin.




I'll start with a short discription of the game:

Ruah is a unique and emotional first person experience about the value of life.  As the player, you take on the role of the wind spirit and your task is to gather the forces of the deer gods, who are watching over the world. As you progress, the seasons change and it gets colder and colder. Can the gathered forces defeat the dark winter and let new life rise by summoning spring? The gameplay is minimalistic and pure. The player can float through the game world and use 'Ruah', a soft magical gust, to interact with their environment and the deer gods. Watch how the flowers grow and the butterflies dance as you summon 'Ruah' whenever you please. The game doesn't provide challenge or threats for the player. They can relax thoroughly and feel the 'sense of wonder' as they progress through this short and linear experience of harmony and peace. With highly stylized visuals the game achieves a unified look that reflects the power of movement, colors and life in an otherwise static and meaningless world. With emotional audio which dynamically responds to the players actions, the game sets a peaceful tone while further engaging the player at the same time. Ruah is a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy at any given emotional state.

To give you an even shorter discription, that's our vision statement:

A peaceful, emotionally driven first-person experience
set in a unique and living world



Have a look at this screenshot to get a better idea:




How Ruah came to be (Part 1)

As this is the first post, I want to focus on how the project came to be. It started out as a completely different game, but when you know our story you may understand that we actually only went through many iterations. I believe that our vision never changed, it just took us a while to get fully aware of it. This is how it went:

My friend Tristan, who funtions as level designer and environment artist on the project, approached me about nine months ago. Back then we just started with our first semester project. He told me about his idea of creating an exploration based foto-safari game set in a world full of dinosaurs. The book Dinotopia was a big inspiration for him. His vision statement was along the lines of "Pokémon Snap without rails". Back then, I had the ambition to create a 3D collect-a-thon plattformer and I liked the idea of collecting pictures instead of items. We agreed on combining our ideas and started to make a concept for the second semester. During that phase it was just the two of us working on Ruah.

I don't remember exactly how or why it happened, but ironically the dinosaurs were scrapped very early in the concept phase. I believe that happened mainly because we were never really talking about implementing different dinosaurs such as T-rex, Archaeopteryx and so on. We were instead talking about having creatures with different characteristics, creatures who are able to fly or creatures who are very shy, leaving the context open. That way we were able to think about how we can create interesting challenges that we could place between the player and the picture he is trying to take, without limiting ourselves.

Even back then I was really pushing for an abstract and unique art style. I felt that when a game requires the player to take pictures, the act of taking pictures has to come natural to the player. They have to be thinking "That's an environment I really want to take pictures in!". With a game that ideally looks like nothing else, with art direction that is all about interesting compositions depicting movement and emotion, that goal could be achieved much easier I thought.

With that in mind the atmosphere we intended for the game was shaping up. Tristan was referring to the Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke, especially to the majestic god of the woods. The sacramental presence of nature captured by that movie and other works had us realize that we want to create a meaningful experience. The creatures you take fotos of should feel special. Maybe you are even the only one who can see them and by taking pictures of them you can fill an ancient bestiary. That was probably the only bit of story that was on our minds, we didn't want to shift our focus. In fact we were still struggling with defining the gameplay a lot. More about that in Part 2.
Here are some sloppy concepts that Tristan made to show me what he had in mind:




Aren't they adorable?
I immediately fell in love with the bright triangular leafs of the gritty tree creature. Tristan stated that they were just randomly shaped and painted, pure placeholders, as he didn't invest much time at all. I insisted that we actually implement leafs that look just like in the concept. Furthermore the question arose, what if we use triangles everywhere in the game?

In the end one might say that Tristans random triangles actually secured the project.We Didn't know if we could convince any other students of our concept in order to form a bigger team, so we were planning the game as small as possible so that even the two of us could build it within one semester. Developing a game that contains primitively shaped 3d models was suddenly no compromise anymore because now we actually wanted to have triangles all over the place for stilistic reasons. Deciding on triangular low-poly art was the point where all strings came together for the first time. A beautiful foto-safari game with a consistent style and a mystical yet powerful atmosphere suddenly seemed possible if we follow that style.

That decision happended in December or January. Around the same time Tristan got his friend Aryo on board. He is the 2D artist and concept artist of Ruah, responsible for the first picture of this post which got many people at Games Academy excited.

End of Part 1

Unfortunatly this is where I have to stop writing for now. I will cover the rest of our way to the final vision statement in the next post and from there on I plan to write about what we are currently doing mostly. You can also expect a short pre-alpha trailer soon.

For more you can follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/teamruah
and/or like us on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ruahgame

We do Screenshotsaturday as well!

Any feedback is highly appreciated, if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!
« Last Edit: July 19, 2014, 08:23:34 AM by Samuel » Logged
davidhallgren
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« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2014, 10:26:55 AM »

Beautiful screenshots! I really like the low-poly style and overall feeling with the different seasons. Looking forward to see more from it, especially in motion.
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« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2014, 12:12:52 PM »

Yeah this looks very awesome. Definitely interested in more screenshots, as well as more concept-art-to-game-assets examples.
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« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2014, 11:59:20 PM »

Yes but does it have gameplay idk it doesn't seem like a game.




(Just kidding, just kidding. Hi guys! I've never seen that concept art, what a shame! :D)
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Samuel
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« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2014, 11:14:51 AM »

Thank you guys! I'm glad you like what you see! :D

This is our latest screenshot:

https://twitter.com/TeamRuah/status/485320097578643456

Here the second part of our story:

How Ruah came to be (Part 2)

Another thing that we decided to do was trying to create a world that feels like a character. It made sense aesthetically and from a gameplay perspective. As we weren't able to build a big world you would have to visit the same places over and over again in order to get all the pictures, so the places should feel different each time while still being recognizable. With a dynamically changing world we could have achieved a strong relationship between the creatures you encounter and their environment. Some creatures would only appear in winter, some only at night, others only if you already took a picture of another creature and so on.

We even thought of implementing a terra-forming mechanic that enables the player to plant different trees in order to attract certain creatures. I was looking at the terra-forming aspect of the safari zone in Pokémon Heartgold and Soulsilver for reference. But that feature was one of many ideas we considered impossible for the projects scope.

The biggest inspiration for the feel of the world was Proteus. With its focus on changing seasons and the daytime/nighttime feature it truly feels like the world of Proteus is alive. The stylized visuals further amplify that aesthetic.

But what kind of gameplay was Ruah going to have? Tristan always envisioned it as a third person game. You would switch to first person perspective to take pictures after performing platforming to get close to the creature. The biggest issue with that concept was that the act of taking pictures and the platforming are essentialy two different games. They don't offer any conclusive connection gameplay wise. My suggestions was to completely focus on the camera, on observing the world and on getting closer to the creature without of scaring it away instead of platforming. I was thinking of a mixture between Africa aka Hakuna Matata for PS3 and Pokémon Snap. By making Ruah first person the player can become one with the camera. "Be the camera" was one of the key aesthetics I kept talking about. Additionally implementing stealth gameplay would help us to create an attractive core loop:

Wonder around -> See a creature -> Get as close to the creature as possible -> Take Photo -> Repeat

If you had failed to take a picture because you scared the creature away it would have come back after a while. We considered sound, cover, angle and more factors for the stealth gameplay:




I also did some research on our main references' reviews to evaluate how they worked and succeeded. Here's an excerpt from the research on Pokémon Snap aka "Poekmon Snap":




And so we basically went with the photo rating system of Pokémon Snap adding a few factors on our own:





All of that combined became the gameplay we pitched to other students. We were planning to have about three types of animals (deer, monkey, bird) that we would rescale/recolor/alter to create a big variety of species. The players main goal would be to 'snap em all' and fill a bestiary just like a Pokédex. Three godlike creatures would have provided a story, functioning as boss encounters.

After some back and forth we were successful and programmer and technical artist Stefano, creature artist and animator Antje and producer Christian joined our team. We had all the manpower and skills we needed and were ready to go.

The creature design was getting closer to actual animals. We were confident that our artstyle would transport enough of the magical atmosphere on its own. The look alone made the animals feel special and we decided to not tackle the same problem with two solutions in order to keep the game as pure as possible by . Striking the balance of cubistic art and an organic appearance was a challenge we took up.

Prototype model by Tristan:



Final model by Antje:




The following is a screenshot from the very first prototype Stefano did. The lighting was standard Unreal Engine 4 lighting (Stefano convinced use to use that engine for aesthetical reasons, otherwise we would have went with Unity) which still was way to realistic and far from our concept art. The deer already had some functioning AI and you were able to take pictures.



And from there on a lot changed.

After receiving very valuable feedback from Bernd Diemer (game director at Yager) and doing some game feel evaluation, it became clear that there was a conflict between the aesthetics we were trying to express and the gameplay we conceptualized.

The first issue was using a cross hair. Most players would think they have to kill everything that moves instead of peacefully taking pictures. Teaching the peacefulness of the game to the player without of using text would have been hard. The intended atmosphere would also suffer from that non-diegetic interface element. And if we created stealth gameplay, which is extremly difficult to do in a first person view to begin with, we would have to use many non-diegetic interface elements in order to visualize level of sound, being covered, different animal states and so on. Otherwise scaring away animals would never feel justified to the player.

The biggest issue was that the camera itself didn't fit at all. It was way too technical. An everyday object from our world taken to that magical world as a tool to interact felt like looking through a window into a place we created to look at. But we wanted the player to actually be in that world, to become a part of it.

The intended feeling and atmosphere was definitely more important to us than the gameplay we had designed. It was the vision we were rearing for so long while the gameplay was just a means to transport that feel. So as a conclusion we decided to change the gameplay in favor of the aesthetics and not the other way around.

Now the whole team did some brainstorming. We thought of alternate ways of taking pictures. Maybe you don't need a camera to take pictures, maybe you don't have to take pictures at all. What if you give something instead of taking something? What about a simple interaction with your environment, like the call in Journey. The title of our game came into play. We had that title before, mainly as a working title for pitching the game, but now it meant a lot more to us:

Ruah (rûaḥ, רוח) is hebrew and stands for spirit, the weather, the wind of god. It captures something special that no english word can express. We liked the ring to it, the mystical feel and that everyone was curious and unsure how to pronounce it.

In the photo game concept Ruah stood for the godlike creatures who are watching over the world. But now that we wanted to get the player closer to the world we thought of switching roles.

The player should control the wind instead of a human character, similar to Flower. They should be able to use that magical wind Ruah. We liked the idea and started the gameplay from scratch. This time also trying to keep the gameplay as pure as possible. The player can move and use Ruah to interact with their environment while the world is dynamically changing. That's it. We were planning to include seasons before, now we could use the seasons to linearly depict the year cycle and give everything meaning.

Another reference came to mind: The student project Yours Truly,

https://www.facebook.com/yourstrulydev?fref=ts

You can download it for free so there is no excuse to not check it out. Smiley

That game has been made by students from our school under similar conditions and within a similiar time frame. They decided to go for a short and linear experience that feels complete, harmonious and polished. That's what we felt was fitting for Ruah so we wanted to achieve that as well.

We then defined these core user stories:



This was our new gameplay overview:



And here is how using Ruah works:



And finally, this is the level procedure we created. We thought of which environment would represent which season best and how the player should be transited from one environment to another:




End of Part 2


All of that combined roughly equates to the game we are developing right now.
Thank you for reading and don't worry, future updates will be shorter. Smiley




« Last Edit: July 11, 2014, 03:05:52 AM by Samuel » Logged
mguitars
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2014, 05:20:04 PM »

This is incredible! The visuals are absolutely spectacular! I really love the aesthetic.

I'm not sure if you guys already have music/sound person, but I would love to get involved in this if you're interested. You can check out some of my stuff at marksparling.com

I would also be more than happy to write a quick demo track for you (again if you're interested).
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Samuel
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« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2014, 01:45:21 AM »

Hey Mark! Thank you for the compliment and your offer!

I am doing most of the audio for Ruah myself. That includes ambient, sfx and music. There is another musician, a singer and an experienced sound designer who are supporting me as externals so there is no demand. We are planning to make the music and sfx dynamic by using different sound layers etc. So I wouldn't feel comfortable outsourcing them. But perhaps you could give us some feedback here and there? I really like your work! You have a song called "Ruach" on your page (German spell of Ruah). Is that a coincidence? (:
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« Reply #7 on: July 07, 2014, 05:17:44 AM »

No problem! I will definitely be following this game closely. Pokemon Snap was one of my favourite N64 games.

That's funny that you mention Ruach. I was working with an artist for the public domain game jam and she came up with the name. It's definitely a weird coincidence though.
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« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2014, 12:55:50 AM »

HI!
I'm Tristan, the level designer and environment artist for the game. I thought it was about time for me to add my two cents worth...
So... the game is set on an island and is split into 5 parts. This is a top down view:
https://twitter.com/TeamRuah/status/481785829472608256/photo/1
We wanted each location to be memorable and distinct. The waterfall at the beginning has its own aesthetic and is also the first barrier that the player needs to overcome.
Then its on to the forest! Towering trees and mushrooms are perfect for autumn. The stony field after the forest is very open, with landmarks guiding the way towards... the Cave!
Which is exactly what it sounds like and leads players up onto the mountain. It's deep gloomy winter by now and the player has an overview of the snow covered island. The river has stopped flowing and iciles have formed. Now the player can trudge along towards the summit.

Okay, so that's the player's journey in a nutshell. We're trying to fill the island with many objects to interact with and reward players who play around.
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« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2014, 03:28:02 AM »

The screenshots are beautiful, what are you creating the game in?
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Samuel
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« Reply #10 on: July 08, 2014, 04:03:54 AM »

@JTCWood: Thank you! we are using Unreal Engine 4
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« Reply #11 on: July 08, 2014, 04:21:33 AM »

Oh wonderful, how exactly do you construct the foliage? It looks slightly procedural? Or is it all separate constructed meshes with a nice paper like shader on it?
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« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2014, 04:36:14 AM »

hey,
there's nothing even a little bit procedural about it Smiley
But your second guess is spot on!
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« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2014, 01:49:04 PM »

Have some problems to picture the concept overall but it's kind of in the same direction than thatgamecompany's been making so far... Which is really cool! Emotion-driven gameplay that's a hell of a new genre to explore I think, still in 2014.
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« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2014, 02:18:33 PM »

It is strange to think that the emotional state of the player was always more of an input than an output in video games in the past. You would use it to choose dialog options etc. Now there are games that can really manipulate your state of mind.
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« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2014, 04:29:46 AM »

Great art style !
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Samuel
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« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2014, 06:26:39 AM »

Yeah I also think emotionally driven game design still has a lot of potential. It would be really cool if Ruah manages to get the player in this dreamy yet aware state of relaxation. We're working hard on it.

Ok, so I want to do a little update regarding controls.

The Controls

Ruah is optimized for a controller (Xbox 360 or similiar) but Keyboard will likely be supported as well.
First person control will be handled via twin sticks or WASD and mouse. Nothing new here, we do what's established and works well.





Using `Ruah` to interact with the environment is bound to the analog shoulder triggers of the controller as this allows us to make interactions dynamic and intensity sensitive.
It basically works like two gas pedals for one engine. The stronger you press the triggers the greater the force.



We balanced movement and Ruah usage by slowing the player down a little when he is using Ruah so that the player is encouraged to watch the effect of Ruah on the environment.

To communicate the controls to the player we will make an exception and use non-diegetic interface. We thought of alternatives but there was no convincing compromise to make. still we are trying to make those interface elements fit in well with the look and feel of the game.





Here is what it currently looks like. The interface will use transparency so that you can see the game world in the background.



There will be no sub-screen, menu scene or whatever, the start screen will actually be the first screen of the game. It will be loaded in the game world itself which means that there is only one loading time. In order to start the game the player will have to use either the analog sticks or the analog triggers. The options are highlighted. any input on those will trigger a little button explanation such as the word "move" next to the right stick and so on. After a few seconds this explanation will fade away and the player is right in the game and enabled to play. The intensity sensitive nature of Ruah will (hopefully) be taught by gameplay itself.






« Last Edit: July 19, 2014, 09:25:09 AM by Samuel » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: July 11, 2014, 03:10:09 AM »

This approach to gameplay and immersion is very interesting and I wish developers would consider it more often. Maybe you could have a simple representation of the intensity the player is inputting by altering some colours within the scene or maybe of the antlers, the left would represent the left trigger and vice versa.
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Samuel
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« Reply #18 on: July 19, 2014, 09:19:51 AM »

Hello again!

I'm sorry to say that we can't keep our promise to upload a trailer this week. We had problems with capturing gameplay so that we lost a lot of visual quality in the process and the trailer I edited just sucked because of that. We will try to directly capture from the engine (Unreal actually has really good tools to do that) but our number one priority right now is to make the game as good as possible.

We are planning to finish development in August, then release the game for free. Hopefully we can show you some footage prior to that. In Iwatas words: please understand.

We are currently focusing on the start and ending of the game to get a round experience. Next we will be busy with colliders and playtesting to ensure everything is player proof.

And we have a bird! It's not in the game yet but we'll get there soon!
Take a look at the animations Antje did for the little fellow:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeMRtSosFJQ

Did you catch the little cheep at the end? I love that cheep.

Right now Ruah still lacks a lot of feedback, visual polish, some art assets and in general hundreds of tiny somethings. We are working really hard to make Ruah the best experience we can.

P.S.: I edited the previous post by adding an earlier work in progress sketch of the interface. The design you saw in the GIF is a little outdated now as we kept iterating on it and decided to implement a 3D-Mesh interface instead. This way it's much easier for us (from a technical standpoint) to add the desired effects onto it.





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« Reply #19 on: July 28, 2014, 07:35:48 AM »

Curious how it will turn out! You can do it, guys!  Coffee
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