Established in 2004 and previously known as 'Phoenix Freeware Online', Phoenix Online Studios began as a fan group of King's Quest fans coming together to create an unofficial sequel to the series.
Their first project, The Silver Lining, got the attention from publications such as PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, GameInformer, Edge Magazine, GamesTM, Kotaku, Mtv News and Joystiq. Today, we've been granted an IP license by Activision to publish all 5 episodes free to play.
Phoenix Online Studios is currently working on their first commercial endeavors - Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, recently released Episode 1 last October, and Episode 2 is about to be released Jan 30th, 2013. The game follows a Boston FBI agent, who lost her brother years ago to a serial killer who was never caught. With post-cognition abilities, Erica Reed is able to see the past of the objects just by touching it, adding a twist in this paranormal adventure game.
More information about Phoenix Online Studios or any of our projects can be found at www.postudios.com
Every game needs logic–and that doesn’t just mean the story and puzzles making sense! Logic, or logic scripting, is a part of the programming in the game engine that tells the game what to do. Logic is how the game knows what interactions are available to the player, and what should happen when they activate those interactions.
For Cognition, Moebius, and TSL Episode 5, we use a visual logic scripting tool in Unity that looks more or less like a flowchart. This is great for people like me, who know nothing about programming, as it’s much easier to follow, work with, and even put together. So no longer does a scripter need intimate knowledge of a programming language to help put the game together!
So, how does it all work? Let’s take an example from Episode 1. Now, as you can clearly see here….
Just kidding. :) That’s a little look at how complicated the logic can get, however, and this is tiny peek at all the things the game looks for when you walk into the FBI Main Station every time!
For real this time, let’s look at something a little simpler. :) Clicking on the image below will make it easier to read and follow along.
These are the interactions for the gate in the opening scene of Episode 1. What we first do is identify for the game what object we’re referring to–the gate–which is done in the scene itself. That purple lozenge labeled “GateDoor_InteractionMesh” is tied to the gate itself. From there, we tell the game to build an action wheel for available actions with the gate. In this case, Erica can Look at the gate, try to Open the gate, and Use her Gun on the gate. When a player clicks on one of these interactions, the game then checks for variables, also called Booleans, with the “Compare Bool” box. In this case, it’s checking whether or not Erica has already shot the padlock on the gate.
If she hasn’t shot it off, then the game gives specific reactions that are defined in the cinematic sequences. If she tries to open the gate, she struggles with the lock and has a conversation with John about it. If she looks at it, she’ll notice that the lock is still there. If she uses her gun, she’ll pull it out and fire a round into the padlock to break it. This action will change the variable, so that the game now knows the lock has been broken and the interactions change. These variables are also called “Booleans”, so “SetBool” is the logic that switches that setting.
At this point, if the player tries to open the gate, Erica will do something different–she’ll remove the chain and padlock, push the gate open, and enter the cemetery. This also changes the scene, something else that is set in the cinematic sequence.
Other actions that are defined here are the hints in Erica’s phone. After Erica tries to open the gate once, she can text her dad for a hint about how to get inside. Once she shoots the lock, that hint is removed (regardless or whether the player has looked at it or not), as she no longer needs it.
These variables are constantly being checked in a game–anytime something changes, like the topics you can talk to someone about, whether a particular location is available yet or not, whether a character is in a scene or if they walk out and leave that scene. This is the logic of the game–and like many things, without logic, it just wouldn’t work!
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online
From Adrienne Elliot, Producer of our freeware game: The Silver Lining
This time we are looking at how all the wonderful models and sets are created. Creating all the models is time consuming as they go through many, many drafts before we find the one we look feels like the one the script is describing.
In Episode 5 script, there aren’t any direct words telling us how the character looks however we do have their personality based on their name as well as how they speak and what actions they take during the game itself. From this we are able to do a base sketch. Let’s look at the character Rosella.
As you can see this is a rough sketch of how we think the character should look like. Based on what we know about the character of Rosella we have dressed her elaborately for her wedding. The proportions are off but that is not important at this stage of the character design, all the artist is concerned about is getting the general vision of the character down. Once the general idea is agreed upon, the next stage of design can begin.
In this picture, Rosella has been fleshed out more. The lines are cleaner and the designs in her dress are defined to the point where they could be created to the next stage. Also included are different views of how the character would look. You have the front view, side, and back. All three views are important in a 3D game because you will be able to see the character from all angles. Each angle must be as clean as the others. The close up on her face is required because again of how the camera moves in TSL. These images need to be as detailed as they can be because after this step they go to a Character Artist who will build the character in Maya. If details are not added in at this stage, the Character Artist who works off the design will run into issues that could end up having them scrap the character they have been working on for several days, and those days would be considered lost and mile stones will not be made pushing the entire project back.
In regards to TSL, the torque engine limited how much we really could do with the character in terms of poly counts (how smooth they look). Now that we have switched engines the world of characters and sets have opened up to us greatly and our characters have gone from blocky to smooth geometry. In TSL this process takes us several weeks to complete as most of the team is part time but Noelle, Ting and Tom are able to create amazing things from a simple 2D image and create a 3D character that walks on our screen. To show you how amazing TSL is going to look, here are before and after images of Rosella, the first peek into the art of Episode 5!
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios
This is a Community Blog created by Saydmell Salazar, our Social Media director, my boss (and the best boss one could ask for I might add).
“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does. “
Quote from Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Art must be brave, insightful, creative and bold. It should challenge what you know, what it is. An artists takes it personally. A brush is nothing but a tool, but your dreams is all you need to make your future.
“Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
The day I decided to go into business was because I knew I wanted to make a difference, the day I realized how everything I know can change someone’s day or someone’s life was the day I knew I just had to do this. Then I realized it became a personal goal to make people smile, it didn’t really matter how much I’d have to do or go through, as long as I could feel and see someone smile.
My dream is to be able to do something that matters. To make a difference.
It’s been years, a lot has happened but my heart truly belongs in the indie world. All this amazing talent, all this passion and all this strive needs some direction, needs some guidance, needs part of what I know. Therefore, I can only hope my art can fit in into my dream.
I can only hope my love is enough to measure up to my will.
I am nothing but proud to say that Phoenix Online Studios shares this dream too. Indie Support is no longer a dream now, it is a reality. We are sponsoring and supporting all these amazing talented indies that we manage to reach out in hopes to be able to help and integrate the indie world. It matters, we care and we are doing it.
We are currently sponsoring CBE Software http://www.cbe-software.com/ in their noble quest to fund J.U.L.I.A. Enhanced Edition. They had a very unfortunate situation happen to them (If you are unfamiliar with this please read so here http://www.adventuregamers.com/news/view/23982) and this is the reason why Phoenix Online Studios support is strong with our indie friends, because we know this IndieGogo will make a difference whether they stay in business or their talent disappears from the indie world.
So I would appreciate in behalf of Phoenix and CBE for you to please take 5 minutes of you day and please visit their campaign here http://igg.me/at/julia-enhanced, if all you can do is collaborate with $7 then please do so, if all you can do is just share it on your Twitter/FB then that is also very much appreciated. Anything at this point is welcome and we will be very thankful for that.
Personally, it has been a pleasure helping my dear friend Jan Kavan in this difficult time. He is one of the most talented individuals I have ever met and one of the kindest human beings there is. It’s been an honor to celebrate with him reaching out 20% milestone in less than 24hours, it is the best part of my day so far staying up with him up to 4am talking about what can we do, or just breaking that damn F5 button together (which for the record, we did crash Indiegogo last Sunday! Haha) So thank you Jan, for allowing me to be part of such important part of CBE Software history.
I guess I am very happy to be able to do my art into what I love, and therefore love what I do.
(On a personal note, working with Saydmell was the most rewarding experience I've ever had in my work life, I feel there's so much I've learned from her and at the same time, that I'm only at the tip of the iceberg, thank you Say.)
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios
Designer Katie Hallahan tells us what's it like working with industry legend Jane Jensen (Creator of the Gabriel Knight series)
A question we often get is how we ended up teaming up with Jane Jensen on Cognition. Cesar has told the story how some of the directors first met Jane and Bob when they generously invited us to visit them at their beautiful farm, but what happened between then and the announcement of the Cognition Kickstarter?
Vitek, Rich, Jane, Cesar, and Katie
When we first met with Jane in March 2011, we talked a lot about our plans for Phoenix Online’s future, and naturally the possibility of working together was part of those discussions. At the time, there wasn’t anything that fit what we were looking for, but when Cognition came up that summer, asking Jane if she was interested in working with us was one of the first thoughts we had! The timing and position of Story Consultant worked out perfectly for both her and us, and we got to work.
As Story Consultant, Jane reviews all of our design work, from feedback on the outlines to a full editing pass on the script, and her input has been helpful from day one in helping us to keep the game focused. When Cesar and I were originally outlining the game, we were considering two main plot arcs: the first was Erica’s powers, and the second was a series of killings with a Shakespearean theme. (We’ve got a habit of trying to do too much. We were once naively proud of the original full script for TSL being about 1500 pages long!) Jane’s suggestion that we stick to just one lead us to focus on Erica’s powers, the theme that we could potentially build a series on; maybe someday she’ll face that Shakespearean killer yet!
Things Erica can't do with her bare hands has become a favorite reference and joke of ours--turns out it started with Jane!
For me personally, one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve learned from Jane is that every scene, character, and puzzle needs to support your story. Don’t waste any time — yours or the players — with things that don’t support that development.
It’s been wonderful having her help on Cognition, and we’re highly enjoying working with her in a different capacity on Moebius — but the details of that will be for a future blog from Cesar!
If you'd like to know more about Cognition, feel free to visit the Phoenix Online Studios Homepage.
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios