We Are the Ocean Born

Hey, have some more Vitrerran music why don’tcha!

So, this song is the main theme for The Scarfoam Coast, or our water area. I was trying to channel my inner Alestorm, and while I probably missed that mark by a wide margin, I am happy with what I got going here. This song was super fun to make!

What sets this one apart, I guess, is that it uses a new plugin called Sakura. Well, not “new” to the world but new to Dual Wield Software. It came with some awesome strings, including the violin and guitars you here in this song. I finally have an upright bass, guys. You have no idea how happy that makes me. Got a wicked nice harp too.

Pretty sure the Greyjoys liked to go “we are the iron born,” so that’s where the title is coming from. I’m finding it harder to pun off of A Song of Ice and Fire things as I make more tunes. I haven’t read the books in a very long time.

Game Development: Songbird

Been awhile since I shared anything involving game development. For those who don’t remember, I’m working on a card-based RPG with real-time elements and all other kinds of video game verbiage nonsense. It’s slow going because I”ve taken a month off to work on my current novel.

Anyhow, my bro has been more productive than me. Here’s a song he’s recently finished that’s pretty darn good.

Hope y’all enjoy it. Should have some fun stuff for next week.

Game Development: Viper’s Bite

Progress continues with The Regret of Viterran, this time in the form of a new song. I’m quite happy with this one.

“Viper’s Bite” will be the battle theme music for the Sekhtus Desert.

This song started off as the night-time, rock tune for our Global Game Jam 2016 game. I created the original draft in around five hours on little sleep, and it featured some okay-sounding electric guitar and organ. It was mostly unmixed and unmastered because I ran out of time to do those things.

I liked it then though, and I wasn’t going to just let five hours worth of work sit there like that. So I loaded it back up and re-purposed it.

The okay-sounding electric guitar is now an acoustic guitar–actually two of them, each sounding a little different from each other–and the organ is now a ney flute. Wikipedia says that instrument is prominent in Egypt and the surrounding area.

Like the last song I made for Vitrerran, there was a nice amount of collaborating at work here. I built the basics, and my brother helped me fix a few things up, partly in pointing out which areas were horribly out of key. I’m a hair tone deaf and have problems with some of that.

And like all my other songs, this one has a nod to A Song of Ice and Fire, The Red Viper being a character from the desert city of Dorn. It’s a bit less in-your-face (and not as clever) as “When Winter Fell” or “A Storm of Sounds,” but it’s the best I managed to do without getting overly wordy.

I hope you enjoy!

 

Global Game Jam 2016: On Making a Game in 48 Hours

“So is this it then?” I asked one of the Herzing University professors leading the 2016 Global Game in Madison Wisconsin. “We just play each others’ games for two hours and then you kick us out?” By this point, my sixth wind was gone and all I wanted to do was crawl into a small, dark place and sleep forever.

“That’s it.”

“Why the hell do we do this? It’s crazy!”

The professor, whose name I don’t remember and who I’m strongly paraphrasing because I was rocking maybe seven hours of sleep over a 48-hour period, grins and says, “There’s something off or broken about game designers, but the fun thing is, it’s always the same thing. I dunno why we do it. But we do, and we love it.”

I laughed, because it’s true.

My brother is a programmer, and a damn good one at that. This is his third or fourth Game Jam, and the wait leading up to them is basically his equivalent of yearning for Christmas. Given the people I worked with and talked two over the weekend, I’d say he’s not the only one who thinks that way. These are people who live to draw, to color, to design, to create music, to program, to…well, make games.

There were around 40 of us in all, perhaps a bit more. We first crammed together into a small classroom to get a rundown of how things would go and what this year’s theme would be. As I looked around, it really hit me how diverse gaming and game making is. Interacting with people online is faceless and text voiceless, so it can be hard to tell what kinds of people play and make the things we love.

As it turns out: anyone and everyone.

But though us 40 or so people acted as a colorful, diverse cast of characters, we were hardly different. The lot of us are nerds. Big nerds, small nerds, white nerds, black nerds, European nerds, Latin American nerds, girl nerds, male nerds, nerds, nerds, and more nerds. Or geeks if you prefer. The words are honestly synonyms in my eyes.

The very first conversation I got into at the Game Jam was about the new Star Wars movie. There was no, “high my name is…” prior to this; it was just, “Hey, we need to talk about Star Wars right now!” We did.

Everyone wore their passions on their sleeves here, and it was absolutely awesome.

With a brief presentation concluded and our theme given (this years was Ritual), those with teams left and those without assimilated into groups. My brother and myself already had a team put together, so I followed him to what he assured me was the best room for this event. At this point, there were only two of us; Courtney would show up later and Trent was going to remote in from across the country. Both are artists, and both are really, really talented. It was an absolute pleasure working with them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The room we entered was, like most of the rooms at a school with a game development program, filled with computers. It was also surrounded with glass. The students at Herzing collectively refer to it as the, “Fishbowl,” and it’s the only computer lab with a view of the outside world. If the sun is out, you get real sunlight; if the sun has set, you get starlight.

I am no stranger to locking myself in a dark place and working, but having honest-to-god windows available really helped with morale. It’s easy to feel trapped or suffocated when in a basement or window-less office room.

The problem was, the computers in the Fishbowl weren’t as up-to-date as many of the others throughout the school. The room was deserted, and we had to track down an IT guy (super cool dude and the unsung hero of the event) to help us out. This cost my brother an hour and myself two, since the first computer I grabbed had a bad habit of turning itself off without my permission.

Once we were set up, we got started!

It was around this point that what I thought was a tickle in the back of my throat due to dust exploded into a full-blown cold complete with loss of appetite and a low fever. Two hours in and already I wanted to go home.

It was also around this time that the Fishbowl got some company. Two Herzing Alumni showed up, ready to work on something. They weren’t really sure what. They logged into their respective computers and were dismayed by the lack of any useful programs. They didn’t know what to do, since neither brought their own PCs.

I assumed they would either work with what was available or simply head home and call it a jolly good try. That latter was what I would have done and what I wanted to do at that moment. Instead, they left for home to grab their rigs. They returned at around 5:00 in the morning and set up.

These two were not going to miss this Jam for anything, and if that meant a four-hour drive and a completely sleepless night, then so be it.

And in the end, neither made a game at all. They had lost too much time retrieving their computers, so instead they worked on artwork and models for their own projects. The Jam was never about making a video game but about hanging out with friends, meeting new people, and creating for 48 straight hours.

Even now, I have no idea how someone stays in creative mode for so long. I had to take a ton of breaks, and I even made an effort to get sleep. That effort proved completely futile because these Game Jams are the equivalent of living like savages, but at least I tried. There’s not much one can do with a simple sleeping bag and a rock-hard floor though. Well, that and all the talking, ambient light, and energy going on around you.

Sleep really is not an option here.

Our team had a slight advantage in that we knew what kind of game we wanted to make. My brother and myself have shopped the specifics a few times, of a pair of cowboys defending a speeding train from monsters, and we wanted to prototype it. It sounds fun in theory, but is it in practice?

We were determined to find out, illness be damned.

I came to this specific Game Jam to work on sound. Normally I’m a writer and storyteller, but the kinds of games made at these Jams usually aren’t big enough for a narrative. I do know my way around FL Studio though, and sound design can make or break a game. My first night, then, was spent working on what would be one of two original songs for our game.

The night went by as a strange blur. My normal sessions with FL Studio usually end at around two hours, but here I worked seven straight. I got to a point where I really didn’t know what was going on, only that I had to stay in key. I’m sadly not always good at that. Only when the song was finished and properly mixed did I go to bed.

Day two opened up with worse cold symptoms and a heaping pile of sleep depravation. I went to the nearest gas station and got some Dayquil, because like our companions in the Fishbowl, going home was not an option.

Day two was also devoted to sound effects. With one song out of the way, it was time to give our guns some bangs, our train some chugachuga, and our monsters some angry snarls and howls. I don’t like making sound effects. They’re boring and kind of awful, but that day I churned out nine or ten of them. I’m happy with almost all of them.

Unlike day one which was nonstop work, day two consisted of lots of random conversations with anyone and everyone who would listen. I learned more about Gundam than I ever thought I would, was told to check out some strange anime, and found out that one of our Fishbowl companions had more video game music on his computer than I have non video game music on mine.

It was awesome.

I got to know our Fishbowl companions pretty well over the last 48 hours. Both are more passionate about video games than myself, and both are extremely talented. Sadly, one has some questionable views on Halo 4, but not everyone is perfect. We talked a lot, and before bed, stopped working and loaded up a video game my brother made for school a few years ago. It’s a top-down, multiplayer shooter with some really unique weapons, and we killed each other for about an hour.

We then decided not to sleep just yet and spent the next two hours watching Dragonball Z Abridged.

Bed—finally—came next, though had I stayed up, I would have been treated to a crash course in Magic the Gathering. I kind of regret not staying up for it, to be honest. Maybe next time.

I feel like I should back up a hair and talk about supper. Herzing ordered in 30 pizzas for us 40 or so people to eat, and watching everyone line up and devour all of them is something that will haunt me forever. I suppose since we were living like savages it gave us permission to eat like them too, but god damn.

Thanks to some Nyquil, day three greeted me with actual sleep and energy. Our team was sitting quite well at this point, with a fully playable thing and most of the artwork we needed done. It was time for one more song and some last-ditch programming to get in a few more enemies/mechanics.

I got the song done with no time to spare, and it’s mixing is awful because of it. It’s still a nice lil tune though, and I’ll be fixing it up at a later date.

We sadly didn’t get the last enemy in. There’s only so much that can be done in 48 hours.

And now I circle back to where I started, because with the games all done, the Fish Bowl turned into a place of Show-And-Tell. Everyone set up in it, and I remember looking around and thinking, “How are these people still functional?” None of them looked like they should be standing: unshowered, hair a mess, massive bags under their eyes, and enough junk food and soda to have their digestive systems plugged up for the next week, but there was more energy in this crowd now than when we all started.

Passion is a strange drug, one that can cause untold depression when it isn’t being used properly yet one that can also cause better highs than anything else. Passion is the thing that gets a team of three together, all with zero experience, and having them finish with a playable product. Was their game good? No. But I have more respect for it than any other project at the Jam. What that team did is downright insane.

At five, we were kicked out. My team and my Fishbowl companions headed to the nearest mall for food, enjoyed a few last-minute nerdy conversations, and then departed for home. They all plan on showing up again next year, and I think I’ll join them. I might lack some of the passion, and I might not be as broken as everyone in that room, but I think I’m unhinged enough to fit in.

Plus, there was a very disturbing lack of sound designers. Someone has to do it.

As to our game, it’s hard to know if it was a real success given the attachment. I like it, and I think it’s fun to play, but that’s to be expected. However, during Show-And-Tell, a younger kid showed up, someone’s brother perhaps, and he did not want to stop playing it. We had to kick him off to give other people a chance.

I think that means we did a good job.

For those curious, here’s a quick video of our game, which can be downloaded here

Game Development: Let’s Build: Mount Nefisigg

By now, you guys probably know the deal with these: I build a level for The Regret of Vitrerran and then talk over it with my brother, usually about silly or mundane things because that’s fun. Well, we decided to try something a little different this time. Instead of a series of videos in real time, I pre-recorded this session and sped up the process. Now I’m building at 5X the speed! If I’m being honest, we should have tried this from the start; it makes watching these videos way more interesting.

This go around, we chat about rewatching old anime and then 2016’s Global Game Jam, which we plan on attending as a team. We have an idea for a game we want to try in the future and think that could be a good way to shop some gameplay elements around.

Hope you enjoy. There will be a part two next week.

As always, if you like what you see with The Regret of Vitrerran, please hit up our website (dualwieldsoftware.com) or social media links to follow us there. I don’t crosspost everything I do on this blog.

Dev Blog–Mount Nefisigg: Snow, Castles, and Knights

As production for The Regret of Vitrerran continues, I’m finding myself heading back to older levels to spruce them up a bit or even completely add new parts. As I was building the interior of Castle Alboiss the other day, it occurred to me that I hadn’t ever written a blog about Vitrerran’s ice level, which is strange since it’s been fairly complete for a long time now and acts as the setting to our demo. It’s high-time we’ve had a writeup about it!

ice mtn2

Mount Nefisigg, home to Fort Frostwind at the bottom and Castle Alboiss at the very top, is at the northernmost part of Vitrerran, where it’s cold all the time and snows often. The mountain itself is huge (both in-lore and in physical construction), treacherous, and home to a very hardy group of humans. It took centuries of hard work and magic to mold the mountain into a livable place, though visitors from warmer climates still question how livable Mount Nefisigg truly is.

Yet no one can doubt how resourceful or intelligent the people are. Mount Nefisigg is home to more advanced technology and engineering than its neighbors, and one only need to see the size of its buildings or ride the lift from Fort Frostwind to the castle to realize that the place is special.

Of all the countries in Vitrerran, Mount Nefisigg is the only one run by a monarchy. It is also the only country with an army of knights at its helm. King Midus prides himself on these two facts, though some might say his pride has gotten the best of him. Castle Alboiss and its knights aren’t exactly well loved throughout Vitrerran, and King Midus has made more enemies than friends as of late. He’s quite hopeful that the portals will fix that though, because despite some bad blood, his kingdom is rich in pretty much everything, from resources everyone needs to piles and piles of gold.

Money can fix a lot of problems.

That’s enough lore for now though, so have some pictures!

castle interior

ice castle

ice fort

ice mtn1

ice mtn3

Construction for Mount Nefisigg has been fairly sporadic, all things considered. I started the level second, once the fire level was done, but wound up jumping around between this level and others. I also wound up deleting and restarted a bunch of the bigger areas.

Sporadic or not, I’m happy with how it looks. The place is big, perhaps the biggest level in the game, and I think it has the most variety to it too.

I hope ya guys like it. I certainly do.

The Regret of Vitrerran: New Gameplay Footage

Hey everybody,

Progress on Vitrerran is coming along quite well, and we finally have some major level parts designed and ready to go. I recently played through the battles of our swamp dungeon and was really happy with how they turned out, specifically this battle towards the end. I thought it was really fun and want to show you it.

A few things to note: We are running this in editor, which is why it’s in windowed mode and there aren’t any sounds. It’s also why we chose to talk over it instead of just showing it. Some of the art in here is still placeholder. We’re getting gameplay and game design work done first before we go back to art. And finally, the amount of cards you get will only go up (and drastically) as the game continues. These are all the tools you’ll have by the end of the first dungeon. So multiply that by eight.

If you want to try our game, we do have a demo (as mentioned in the video). You can download that from these two links:

http://www.mediafire.com/download/ssal5b4jykewv5l/The+Regret+of+Vitrerran+Demo.zip
https://drive.google.com/a/dualwieldsoftware.com/file/d/0B4cu9l0OOXeQYlFYUWlTWldmMjA/view

More information about our game can be found on our website:

http://www.dualwieldsoftware.com

You can find us on social media @DualWieldSoft and at Dual Wield Software on Facebook.

Game Dev Blog: Aboravin Jungle: Trees, Wildlife, and Light

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on Vitrerran’s jungle level, and holy crap am I happy with how it’s turning out. Also, holy crap is what I’m doing time consuming! I think you’ll like this one though.

jungle3

The Aboravin Jungle is somewhat typical of jungles in that it’s big and spread out, with most people living in more compact villages than large, industries cities. The trees are big, the wildlife is varied and sometimes dangerous, and the foliage is thick and uneven.

What sets the our jungle apart from many other jungles, however, is that its divided vertically. There are two floors to the Aboravin Jungle, not one.

The ground level is where most people live, however, long ago, a major split occurred within the Aboravin people, causing a large group to flee into the trees where they’ve built their own cities into the thick branches. Narrow walkways connect everything, and while living in the canopy is dangerous and seen as crazy by many on the ground level, those above prefer their closer proximity to the sun, which they believe gives the jungle its strength.

There is no war between the two groups though, and in fact, travel between is fairly common. Each level has something the other needs.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have as much lore or narrative aspects done for the Aboravin Jungle as I have for other regions of Vitrerran. My original concepts no longer seem as fun as I once thought, and I’m in the process of rewriting and repackaging everything. The canopy itself is a new addition to the jungle, and one that’ll be interesting to work with as I bring more characters through.

The place is infested with witches though! That wasn’t in the original concepts, which were clearly flawed since they lacked witches.

Design wise, the level is coming along really nicely, but it isn’t 100% finished. We need a custom tile sheet for the trees, particle effects for the water, and some more concept/custom items for the canopy itself, which is still in its early stages.

But dang, when this area is done, I think it’ll stand out as one of the best in the entire game.

But enough talk! It’s time for pictures.

jungle5 jungle4 jungle2 jungle1

As with every area of Vitrerran, the goal was to make the Aboravin Jungle as distinct as possible without needing too many customized tile sheets. The uneven landscape was Joe’s idea, and one that looks really good when put together properly.

My idea was, instead of making a few big maps with multiple paths, to make a ton of little maps with more linear paths, giving the place a sprawling feel. I want the jungle to feel big, and I want it to seem hard to traverse.

So far, I think I’m getting it right.

For more information about The Regret of Vitrerran, please visit http://www.dualwieldsoftware.com/

Comparing Video Game Writing with Novel Writing

As development of The Regret of Vitrerran continues to chug on, I’ve taken a break from level design to return to the writing side of things. We’re getting ready to really start putting some major level pieces together, and that means the dialogue has to be finished and ready to go.

Having spent most of my free time over the last two months writing and editing long-form fiction, I’ve really been struck by how different video game writing is. That isn’t to say I find the differences surprising—I don’t—but they are interesting.

I find interesting things fun to talk about, so here go. To make my life easier (and to make this more interesting), I’m going to lead by example. What follows is the first conversation between Pakasoph and Caud told in long-form writing:

Pakasoph ran for his life, stumbling through the thick, swampy grasslands and almost tripping over his robes. The thought, “I’ve killed us all” kept running through his head as the sounds of otherworldly monsters reverberated around him. Their growls chilled his blood, and the screams of the local wildlife tore at his heart.

“Caud,” he shouted, hoping his friend was near. They still had time to stop this, to close the portal and fix what he had done.

Pakasoph entered a clearing and approached his friend’s house. Without thinking, he ran through Caud’s garden, stomping a series of pink, leafy ferns into dust. Caud would be out back fishing. He had to be, because Pakasoph knew he couldn’t close the portal by himself. “Caud!” he shouted, again rounding a corner and barreling into the large salamander.

“It’s my fault,” Pakasoph blurted out. “It’s all my fault, and you have to help me. Oh god, what have I done? I didn’t mean to, but—”

“Hey frog, be still,” Caud said with a big smile. He had his fishing pole dug into the mud so it wouldn’t move and tapped at it lazily to keep the lure moving. When he noticed Pakasoph was on the verge of panic, he followed with, “It’ll be alright,” and made a placating gesture with his hands.

“Quick! Quick, you have to help!” The large frog began motioning back to where he had come. “It’s summoning monsters. It’s not supposed to summon monsters, but it’s summoning monsters, and we have to stop it.” When Caud made no motion to move away from his fishing pole, Pakasoph shouted, “Right now!”

“What’s summoning monsters,” Caud asked, still smiling his big, lazy smile.

“The portal!” There were times when Pakasoph truly wondered about his friend, who was often two steps behind everyone. “Now come on! I need your help.” Pakasoph started running back to where he had come, preparing spells in his mind to fight the creatures he had summoned into his home. He glanced over his shoulder, hoping to see Caud, but the big salamander was still messing with his fishing rod. “God, they’ll kill everyone!” Pakasoph shrieked, and that got Caud moving, though he was still carrying his fishing pole. Pakasoph put his hands over his head, feeling completely out of control. The world was going to fall apart if they didn’t close the portal right now. “We have to go!”

Caud started jogging, and together the two ran towards what Pakasoph knew would be an army of monsters and destruction.

Alright, so that’s not perfect, but it’s a solid foundation for what could be the start of a story. Ideally, I’d have some more descriptions of the swamp and maybe Caud’s home, though those kinds of elements can be hard to juggle when you want characters to move quickly.

Now, here’s what I actually have written for our video game:

Setting: Swamp. Conversation 1. Pakasoph runs to meet Caud who is fishing.

Pakasoph: Caud! Caud! It’s my fault. It’s all my fault, and you have to help me. Oh god, what have I done? I didn’t mean to, but—

Caud: Hey frog, be still. It’s alright.

Pakasoph: Quick, quick, you have to help. It’s summoning monsters. It’s not supposed to summon monsters, but it’s summoning monsters and we have to stop it. Right now!

Caud: What’s summoning monsters, Pak?

Pakasoph: The portal! Now come on! I need your help. Oh god, they’ll kill everyone. We have to go!

Bit different, isn’t it? The first is multiple paragraphs while what’ll be going into Vitrerran is nothing more than some direction and strait dialogue. The reasoning behind that is fairly obvious, what with video games being a visual medium; you’ll get to see Pakasoph run in panic and scream for his friends help without me needing to tell you about it. We’ll even direct him over Caud’s garden.

But the thing is, Vitrerran’s art style is all hand drawn and sprite based, meaning Pakasoph’s look of horror and Caud’s lazy smile won’t actually be seen by anyone. Their little hand gestures and head turns will also be absent, as we do not have the kind of time to add such minute animations.

Pakasoph_spritecaud_spriteBecause of these limitations, everything about the characters has to come through in the way they speak and the words they say. Pakasoph’s the-sky-is-falling attitude and high-pitched fear are (hopefully) evident by the words he repeats and his rambling nature. Likewise, a big part of his character is surrounded in his belief that the portals are spewing monsters because he made a mistake, and that needed to be established as soon as possible. I mention it in the first paragraph of the long form piece, but to make it work in-game, I had to include it right away in the dialogue. The first thing he tells Caud is, “It’s my fault,” not, “Please help me.”

Caud, on the other hand, is a laid-back character with a few verbal quirks. He doesn’t tell Pakasoph to calm down, he tells him to, “Be still.” He doesn’t ask his friend what’s wrong, because to Caud, nothing is every truly wrong. His follow up is, “It’ll be alright,” not, “Tell me what happened.” What happened is of little importance since it’ll fix itself eventually.

Writing for Vitrerran is a very remarkable change in pace and execution, and I’m thankfully finding the challenge fun. Believable dialogue can be hard to write, especially when you don’t have facial expressions and character movements to accompany it, but I think I’m making it work. There’s a puzzle aspect to it, because I don’t have internal monologue or narrated exposition to add in elements of what’s going on. I can’t make Pakasoph blink in surprise when Caud says something profound or stupid. Everything of importance then, be it thoughts, actions, backstory, or emotions, has to be in the dialogue.

And it all has to read logically and seamlessly, because let’s face it, we’ve all ran into a story where the characters don’t talk like how people talk. You can’t force speech; it has a rhythm to it, a natural flow that relies just as much on visual cues as it does the words and word cadence.

Vitrerran is a big place with a big cast of characters, and I love that about our game. So far, I also love all of the characters I’ve created/discovered, and I hope you all will too. It just comes down to making them talk right, because damn, that can be a challenge when the stylistic elements I’m used to using as a crutch are no longer here.