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Vivid Foundry
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« on: September 14, 2015, 07:58:08 pm »



The Premise
“Our future, our design!” In 2038, Abraxa Harbour city-state is hailed by its wealthy as the crowning jewel of thriving markets and cosmopolitan culture, at odds with the increasing number of destitute who live in the shadows of its skyscrapers. But this is the year that even students and workers see their future dwindling away, and they rally to form a society different from what the city’s strongholds have authorized. A young woman, Chloe, is in many ways an outsider, a newcomer who finds Bismarck Harbour full of forbidden and cryptic histories. But she must strike deep into the storied urban streets in order to reunite with her friends, who have embedded and braced themselves to defend their livelihoods. Can she reunite them across ideological divisions, or are some of them better off alone with their ambitions? With her machine-aided perception to see into reclusive worlds and associations, how will Chloe negotiate her hopes and fears in the midst of turbulent revolution?

Visual Novel Features
  • A unique story set in a cyberpunk city that focuses on humanistic qualities of negotiation, public engagement, and social trust
  • What dialogue and action choices you chose matters to the outcome of the game and the characters around you
  • Hand-drawn graphics with many character expressions and diverse backgrounds
  • More to be announced as I prototype and test out new features!

Goals
I am a storyteller foremost and this is a wondrous challenge for me to create a fictional world resonates through interactive dialogue. I have about two years freelance experience in 2D and 3D arts, and studied political science and film in university, hence my interest in pursuing a human tale about sociohistorical transformations. I am teaching myself coding and UI design as I go. I will tend to chatter more about the arts and humanities out of familiarity, but may stumble over some programming ideas. But, lots of learning will be had on all fronts!

This is an independent project which I’m bound to experiment with. Please expect that I may make broad changes to this game as I progress! This can include UI design, art, game mechanics, and writing.

Game Engine
  • I am prototyping dialogue flow and choices in Ren’Py. The programming syntax for the basics are very easy to apply and effective for me to make dialogue changes
  • I will build my game in Unity 5 because I want fuller animations for scenes, some Adventure Creator elements, and can develop my game for more platforms more readily. I am currently prototyping art in Unity.

Currently
  • Happy with where the overall arch of the story is. Already have a solid framework!
  • Creating a demo build in Unity 5 that will be over 30 minutes long to play
« Last Edit: January 29, 2016, 11:26:57 am by Vivid Foundry » Logged

Vivid Foundry
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« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2015, 07:59:06 pm »

History of Development

I started ruminating on the idea of a game about a futuristic student-led society since early 2013, when I had just completed a game arts & VFX internship in Hong Kong. I was travelling in East Asia and was having conversations with friends and artists there about our histories and civil identities. In Nov-Dec 2013, a group of friends and I put together a 5-minute playable level in Unity as a proof-of-concept (Credits: Rob Richard, Mikki Benaglia, Blake Withers. They are very enjoyable to work with and are highly reliable). Back then, the game was called Babel. It featured point-and-click puzzles and voice-over narration in a 3D environment built for first-person exploration.





Something didn’t quite grasp the agency and atmosphere that I wanted to convey in the first playable demo. The puzzles weren’t very good, and each of us in the team were considering longer-term job opportunities at the time. We put the project on indeterminable hold. In Fall 2014, outside of a couple of short-term freelance engagements, I returned to developing this game.

After some consultation with the old team and other programming and design friends, I realized that I really needed to tighten the narrative first for it to be a narrative-driven game, and that my gameplay will be informed by the key characteristics of the narrative. This may seem counter-intuitive for a lot of general how-to-dev guides that demand focus on gameplay first, but for me, interaction cannot be divorced from narrative action in a text-heavy game. Finally, it did not seem like I was fighting with gameplay ideas that could barely move past the prototype stage because the narrative seemed like flavor, not a key feature, and that was not necessarily something I wanted to produce for this particular game.





Thus, through the remaining months of 2014 and early 2015, I drafted a cyberpunk story with an outline for the general arches of narrative action. I had a much better grasp of what I was going for, and Solace State as a name reflects both sci-fi and political overtures. I created a trailer in Feb 2015 to solidify the atmosphere and tone. I knew clearly what I want to highlight for Solace State: Conversations and building relationships and trust between characters.

Which brings us to now: I currently balance my time between design, game engine work, writing, and artwork. Since 2014, this has been a solo development effort, though later I am sure to find a specialist in sound design, music, and composition.

Art style (a continued odyssey)

In Dec 2013, the game was a 3D exploration puzzler, and the models were realistically proportioned but had a very painterly texture to them.



By Feb 2015, I have found a simpler style: Banksy-like graphical style with painterly 2D backgrounds.



Now, I’m finding an in-between: 2D illustrated characters that will have more diverse facial expressions.
Also, I'm experimenting with 2D parallax backgrounds as well as 2.5D/3D scenes.



This was a Ren'Py prototype from Aug 2015. The art got a bit too convoluted, and I want a separation between characters and backdrop (kind of like Disney's different styles between character and background art).



This is a realtime prototype in Unity, created Sept 13, 2015. I want to see how I can push this with 2D flatty character art.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2016, 11:39:11 am by Vivid Foundry » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2015, 08:15:20 pm »

Yo... this sounds deep.

Really enjoyed looking at how the art evolved overtime, too. Subbing!
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leblackdragon
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« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2015, 08:30:49 pm »

This looks really interesting. I love how you are using the art as textures. Gives it a really unique look.
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« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2015, 08:33:12 pm »

Yo... this sounds deep.

Really enjoyed looking at how the art evolved overtime, too. Subbing!

Thanks so much! There will be more art brainstorming yet, haha! Hope you'll like it.
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« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2015, 08:34:31 pm »

This looks really interesting. I love how you are using the art as textures. Gives it a really unique look.

Thank you, Leblackdragon! I appreciate it, especially since I may overthink it on the art style front a bit! :D
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nathy grrrl
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« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2015, 07:34:47 pm »

Subscribed. Definitely looking forward to seeing where this goes! Overall I find the art style really pretty.

One small thing I noticed in your screenshot with the dialog, "But, out on the pavement and into the crowd..." is that some of the letters on the right edge are hard to read against the white background. You'll probably want to be careful about the juxtaposition of text color with background color. Maybe you could solve that in a generic way by implementing semi-transparent dialog frames to give a darker back to lighter text or vice versa, depending how you want the text to look.

EDIT: Also, I'm not sure if I like the logo in your signature. You should probably hold onto the illusion of depth in your logo, but the way STATE is all broken up under SOLACE isn't quite legible enough.

EDIT again: But, I do think I just noticed what you were trying to do with the logo symbolically Wink
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« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2015, 08:39:22 pm »

Hi Natman, thanks so much for liking the art and offering such thorough feedback! That's really encouraging!

I definitely agree with that screenshot of the dialog, "But, out on the pavement and into the crowd". It was originally in a trailer and the text would populate as each word is spoken in voice-over, but I do wish that I composited it with drop-shadows or semi-transparent dialogue boxes as you suggested. I think the next time I make a mood/concept trailer, I may keep much of the same dialogue even if I update the art style! I definitely need to keep in mind the legibility of the text in each frame, as well as consider the composition of text and art earlier! A good suggestion.

Hahah, I'm no good with logo design, so I had a trusted friend in branding and advertisement create it for me. I do think it depends on what I put with/behind it and how it's sized, for sure, also as the lines for "SOLACE" are very thin. Maybe I'll switch to a clearer/thicker lines version for "watermarks" and labeling in the future! Will have to test it out. I do like SOLACE trying to inject itself into the STATE though. ^^;

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« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2015, 04:46:15 am »

Heh, the symbolism I saw was actually SOLACE tall like skyscrapers and STATE flat on the ground like the oppressed poor.
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« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2015, 09:11:20 am »

Heh, the symbolism I saw was actually SOLACE tall like skyscrapers and STATE flat on the ground like the oppressed poor.
Heh, very cool! I didn't even think of it that way. But now I almost don't want to change it, legibility aside! Tongue Woe, decision-making is hard.

I had mentioned to my friend as he was designing the logo that SOLACE is the larger-than-life ideal that everyone wants to achieve, but the actual STATE of things rarely sees eye-to-eye, even among the common people to bridge their differences (which is why the A in STATE is turned). In the future, if I animate the word STATE into place, ie from an independent STATE to being separated by SOLACE, maybe it would be more clear? Would have to try it out sometime!

Thank you for all the feedback, lots to think about!
« Last Edit: September 17, 2015, 09:18:55 am by Vivid Foundry » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2015, 02:01:38 pm »

Devlog #2

Hello! Been quiet with updates lately, mostly because I’ve been working on writing. It's not as fancy to report on as new art pieces, though I'd be happy to share about my semi-haphazard process.

I’m generally clear to myself with what themes I want to achieve in a narrative-driven media, but I have struggled with executing it right. For Solace State, the premise is "overcoming tyranny and despotism so that the people can lead their lives". For a while, I had resisted the idea of making visual novels because I was comfortable working with full 3D environments. However, I realized that I would be cutting too many corners with my narrative storytelling if I have to also focus a lot of my creative energy on really precise first-person level designs. Because this story is energized with creating connections between a lot of characters, it finally dawned on me earlier this year that visual novels are the most scalable for choice-based dialogue and narration for a new indie developer.

Two weeks ago, I had completed scene-by-scene outlines for each of the game's acts. I like this mode of writing because it's fun to plan out whole swathes of the world, and it helps me identify major plot holes or problematic character arcs. However, in researching more into nonviolent resistance, I realized that my plot - especially the protagonists' plotting - has an empirically high chance of failure, leading to imprisonment, torture or death. Therefore, I have created a thorough outline for a believable but negative ending, but have yet to create the outline for the good ending. This is important to me that I challenge myself to write responsively, engaging with studies that raise convincing perspectives on conflict management and civil disobedience. This won't be the kind of game that is action for action's sake (or pure romance or horror, which are also commonplace in visual novels). It doesn't need to be too complicated, but it needs to tell a good story reflexive of our current climate.

I'm also continually negotiating around the main character’s development. In Solace State, you play from a single perspective, Chloe's, who is a useful subject-position for the player because she starts off as an outsider looking in. However, she’s constantly running around, trying to play the games of intrigue to her strengths. I’ve wondered several times over the course of the week if she’s missing the bigger picture. Such as, broader politics and grand theories about how everyone ought to be governed and such, even though it takes place in a fictional sci-fi city.

And then I realized - who truly keeps that all in their head at all times? Chloe’s not some wizened specialist who’s been balancing the needs of her political constituents and other stakeholders for several decades. Instead, she's 23, and she exudes a college-level idealism and a playfulness that will make her more relatable. Anyhow, we need experiences to know what we want to see in the world - even if those experiences are selfish, focused or intimate. And perhaps it is precisely those moments, because those are the ones that have emotional ties. That’s how we grow. And that’s how many of my main characters ought to develop, too.

However, some of my drafts’ dialogue feel like it’s trying to explain too much upfront. It’s the lure of most sci-fi games, that they try to top-load their explication without really making it matter for the character. And if the characters don’t care, the players certainly won’t feel the emotional impact, either. Nonetheless, I notice that it takes me a while to switch from writing outlines (which by nature have to be really explicit and almost objective, so that I can easily spot plot holes) to the actual engaging motions of the narration and dialogue. Overall, I find that focusing on characters' emotional investment in their own speech or thoughts is super important, and it helps build on core ideas - including sci-fi rules - over time. It’s been a really interesting exercise that has improved my writing and observations thus far!

Next update should be more artsy and visual! ;]
« Last Edit: November 01, 2015, 03:42:42 pm by Vivid Foundry » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2015, 03:33:30 pm »

I really enjoyed reading that writing-focused log, personally. Coffee
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« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2015, 04:03:08 pm »

I really enjoyed reading that writing-focused log, personally. Coffee

Thank you! That feedback is super helpful, as I've long wondered what on Earth I should devlog about when I'm "just writing"! I'm glad it isn't dull.
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« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2015, 06:03:15 pm »

Have to agree with Natman. I often wonder about the amount of research that goes into conceptualizing a story and dialogue. The fact that you delve so deeply into the story is exciting! It sounds like it has potential to be VERY immersion and thought-provoking.

Are there any games/books that have influenced your writing style? Or subject matter?
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« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2015, 06:16:28 pm »

Huh, I should probably be doing more writing-process stuff in my dev log. I've just been so focused on programming, which I doubt most people care to read about.
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« Reply #15 on: November 04, 2015, 02:03:06 pm »

Have to agree with Natman. I often wonder about the amount of research that goes into conceptualizing a story and dialogue. The fact that you delve so deeply into the story is exciting! It sounds like it has potential to be VERY immersion and thought-provoking.

Are there any games/books that have influenced your writing style? Or subject matter?

Hi! Thank you for the question, and sorry for the delay. It's been such a busy week, and I wanted to make sure that I have ample time to answer your question in detail! And thanks for the kind thoughts, I really hope and will aim to make a game that is very immersive, but I know that the tone and execution of the story can really impact the outcome. Really, I have to balance between over-complication and oversimplification!

Some of these answers are arguably not that exciting. For example, I keep updated with the Economist and Foreign Policy, and many of the questions they pose in macro-politics are interesting to me to ponder over. Also, full disclosure, I studied political science; I realized that I've always wanted to write fiction related to my studies in undergrad, more than write actual useful studies, hahaha. So I read on my own time about conflict management, civil engagement, and political philosophy, and slowly over time this eased into an interest in developing an interactive storyline of some sort. It became a strange challenge for me to see how I can distill these ideas into a digestible visual novel.

I would say that my strongest sci-fi influence would have to be Philip K. Dick, though I have no presumption that I can write anywhere near his caliber. For something a bit more down to earth, I quite like YA author Charles De Lint's The Painted Boy. Finally, the two classics, 1984 and Brave New World, are always such colossal figures to me, and are likely to affect and inspire not just this project, but future ones to come.

In terms of games that have inspired me a lot, I realized through games such as Bioshock, Dragon Age, Dear Esther, and especially Sunless Sea, Actual Sunlight and Analogue: A Hate Story + Hate Plus that I should expect a player who loves stories to want to invest themselves into a well-written storyline, even if there are ideas and lingo that takes time and player effort to settle into. These games don't try to reach a younger teen audience persay with their tropes, and I guess you can say that the games are more diversified in their execution as a result, even though I'm sure teens aren't unwelcome in trying their games. It's just a strong sense of unique style that these games exude, and I'd say they all use "story" as one of their core feature (though I'm sure some people would argue with me on that one!). Analogue and its sequel, Hate Plus, are particularly phenomenal in that it unabashedly twists a conventional genre style to spin a tale about sci-fi and politics.

It's also film and plays that deeply influence me. In particular, Major Barbara is a play with distinct impressions upon me: It's about an idealistic young woman who volunteers with the Salvation Army and doesn't want to be associated with her rich father, who made his fortune in munitions. All the films I've watched by Wong Kar-Wai remind me that there are many ways to show heartbreak, loss, and dissolution, but it certainly requires intense focus, patience, great timing, and many little inklings of the characters' inner lives. The Constant Gardener was also one of the first political fiction films I watched which doesn't involve big wars - it's about an activist and a British diplomat in Africa - and was subversive in how it presents trauma.

Maybe one day, when I have more to show, I'll post about my inspirations more thoroughly!
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« Reply #16 on: November 04, 2015, 03:00:00 pm »

Huh, I should probably be doing more writing-process stuff in my dev log. I've just been so focused on programming, which I doubt most people care to read about.

Not sure about the latter part, but yes, you should definitely write about writing! Also, not everyone might be familiar with the source material. :]
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« Reply #17 on: November 12, 2015, 07:43:58 pm »

Devlog #3

At long last, game mechanics and design! The new screen captures show the game mechanics and art style which will likely remain consistent for most of the rest of the project (subject to feedback, of course).

In Solace State, you play from Chloe’s perspective. The core mechanic, as described in a previous post, remains simple and unchanged: You get to chose some of her dialogue and actions through contextual buttons, to try to develop and maintain trust or exploit a character or social group. This plays out in a branching narrative, similar to many story-driven games and interactive fiction.



95% of what will appear on the screen are events through her eyes. This includes the room that you’re in, to the computer hologram pop-ups that greet you. This was a design decision that took a while to articulate, since I do want the protagonist’s face to show up now and then, but I also want to maintain immersion of a singular perspective.

This is a first design for the UI, where one character talks to you. The character will have expressions to match what they are saying, but will generally be static, similar in style with many Visual Novels. The self-cam shows Chloe’s face or nearby proximity as appropriate for the scene, and sometimes no image feed at all. Since this scene is early in the game, I chose to crop in on her eyes and reveal her full appearance over time.



This UI design is still preliminary, and there will be other configurations in other scenes so that the holo-screens do not block a particular focal point in the background. The background is fully 3D in Unity 5, and takes advantage of its physical shaders, and therefore can include atmospheric effects such as shifting light rays, reflective moving surfaces, and much more.


The second major game mechanic that I’ve been testing lately is the ability to find key information and extrapolate emotional narration from our main character without the use of flashbacks. This one is structured around Chloe’s playground – her hackspace – and lets the player scroll through an isometric space to find and read information. Another design consideration is that I have to consider how to write for something that will likely be read out of order – an interesting premise! The player also pieces together the architectural space gradually, which can give more flavour or clues as to what the narrative slices are about.

*Note: The grainy, blurry quality of the GIF above is because it was very compressed for web! Rest assured that the textures look better in Unity realtime, or as a Video file.

I’m quite excited about both of these gameplay trajectories as Solace State starts feeling much more interactive! In other news these past 8 days, I've also updated parts of my main website, made a new Tumblr, finalized the script for Act 1: Scene 1 through 5, and am trying with all my might to get the UI working in Unity to transition between scenes, dialogue boxes and cameras. So far so good!
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« Reply #18 on: November 15, 2015, 06:27:28 pm »

Quick reaction to the GIF: It's very difficult to visually parse what's going on. I can't tell what input causes the scrolling, so maybe it would make more sense with my actual hands on the controller? As it is I can't tell what the background is supposed to be showing (it's isometric?) or from where the words are appearing.

Haven't looked at the dialog mockups long enough to formulate good feedback, but great news about the first 5 scenes! How many acts are there going to be? Maybe you could make a scene list in your first post and use different colors to represent levels of progress on each one.
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« Reply #19 on: November 15, 2015, 08:02:30 pm »

I like the art
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