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5:07 PM on 07.04.2013

Happy 4th of July!




To everyone hailing from the U.S. both Erica Reed and Phoenix Online want to wish you an awesome 4th of July! We hope you’re all having fun!


Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern
Phoenix Online Studios   read


10:14 AM on 06.28.2013

Face Noir: A Narrative

It was meant to be simple: my first job in weeks.  Find the girl, get the money-shot, get paid, get bent on cheap whiskey and fall into a drunken stupor at one in the morning. It was all so simple.

This is the life of a disgraced police officer turned P.I.,  and it’s falling apart. “But Jack,” I hear you say. “It sounds like your life is lousy enough: the deadbeat job, the lack of work, the alcoholism. You’re a P.I. and you’ve only got the dough for three lousy bullets. How could it possibly get worse?”

You know when you get a call in the middle of the night, and it’s your bitter, no-good past on the other end of the line? A past you’d hoped you’d never think about as long as you lived? And how about when that phone call leads you to the still-cooling body of your treacherous ex-partner?






Before tonight I thought I had problems. I had no idea what was coming.

Don’t get me wrong, the body wasn’t the worst of it. Finding a body’s one thing. The police thinking you’re the one who put it there? That’s different.

And if that weren’t bad enough, any sleep I do get is plagued by dreams of my ex-partner and the fellas that rubbed him out. And the queer thing is, the things I see? Turns out they happened.


And with that you’re dropped into Mad Orange’s 1930’s New York, brought to miserable, whiskey-sodden life through elaborate interactive elements. You can walk the streets on the bad side of town, take a turn in the cheap, ill-fitting shoes of an embittered alcoholic, maybe even bribe some folks and get answers to that age-old question: Whodunnit?

And in return, Jack might avoid spending what’s left of his life staring at the same four walls.

As indie developers, we want to bring our amazing content to the people who matter – the people who support the industry and the studios involved by contributing to our community.

That means you! Yes, you! You matter to us!

Fortunately, the indie scene no longer has to rely on publishers who’ve bled us dry and thrown us out! Phoenix Online was far from the only one to have terrible experiences with a publisher. That’s why we want to help these nice people at Mad Orange out by bringing their fantastic products to new markets, like the English-speaking world! Until now, Face Noir has only been available in German and Italian, but now you can enjoy the grit of 1930s New York with all the English noir-speak that entails.



Face Noir will release on July 18th with an updated inventory system, improved gameplay, puzzles and full English localization. Face Noir is available for pre-order now just for $15.99 (reg. $19.99) and the pre-order exclusively comes with the beautiful Face Noir Sountrack!

PRE-ORDER FACE NOIR HERE!


Katharina Bucher
James Patton
Social Media Interns, Phoenix Online Studios   read


8:08 AM on 05.20.2013

The Oracle’s Haunted House Mystery

I hope you’re ready to put on your sleuth hat!

Cognition Episode : The Oracle just around the corner, meaning we’re officially in crunch time: long hours, nights and weekends, all hands on deck and everyone’s neck-deep in testing and bug fixing to make this Episode ready and looking good. So this past weekend, I stepped into the role of playtester and finally got in my first full playthrough of Episode 3.

Episode 3 has been designed & directed by Nick Bryan, our assistant designer, and Cesar, so while I helped outline, edit and review the script for the Episode 3, I haven’t been as deeply involved with its development. And it was really fun to play a game I both knew and didn’t know for the first time!

Much like The Hangman and The Wise Monkey, The Oracle has its own unique feel and pacing. This time around, I found myself thinking of it more and more as a haunted house mystery. It’s got all the classic highlights:

- A new death reopens an investigation into a building with a bloody past
- Betrayal, secrets, and family drama lie at the center of this mystery
- Everyone has something to hide and no one can be trusted
- The past is intricately tied to Erica’s present in ways she couldn’t have anticipated
- Ghosts! (Well, Projection ghosts)
- There’s even a suspicious-looking butler! I mean, come on, look at this guy!
As soon as you enter the haunted house , the Enthon Towers, you know something’s changed. It’s subtle, but the whole tone of the game shifts as Erica digs into the grittiest of details here. Her post-cognition is really worked into every inch of the design in this Episode, which is so very steeped in discovering the secrets from the past of this place. So get out that sleuth hat, and you’ll want to bring a notepad and pencil for this one, too, because there’s a lot of detail to review and all of it is important. Get ready for some old-fashioned true detective work and an intriguing mystery; you’re not going to want to stop until you’ve figured it out!

I can’t wait for Episode 3 to be out there and to hear everyone’s reactions to the puzzles, new characters, and the mysteries in this one. Not to mention their theories on Episode 4, of course!   read


10:41 AM on 05.10.2013

Cognition Episode 3 Releasing on May 16th & Live Launch Party!



On Thursday May 16th, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller continues in Episode 3: The Oracle! In this episode, you won’t just be playing as Erica, but also as the killer who’s been playing games with her. Meaning we’ll finally know the answer to one big question: [i]Who is the killer?
[/i]

Plus! Join us on May 16th at 11 AM PST/2 PM EST for a launch day livestream! We’ll be on Google Hangout, taking your questions, talking about Episode 3, and doing some exclusive giveaways at our YouTube channel. Just go to to http://www.youtube.com/postudios and hangout with us!

  read


8:41 AM on 04.23.2013

Developer Diary: Harbinger of Red Tape

Today’s post is written by Gavin Greene, Production Coordinator for Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, taking some time out of his very busy day to tell us about his role on the team!

Coordinators are the harbingers of red tape and re-prioritization, a bureaucratic middle man that can be respected, but never entirely liked. And that’s exactly where you need to be.


Artist's interpretation


Also known as an Associate Producer in teams that can afford such titles, a Coordinator’s lot in production is one of constant readjusting. The proud owner and operator of the master schedule, every week brings subtle transformations to your perfectly planned testing passes and animation blocking schedules. Game development is a process of constantly revising your prospects, as a thousand little variables are always in flux: Unity crashes and stubborn shoulder rigs, re-exports and complex renders. Add the fact that your entire team is satellite and around the world, and it makes the film production background you come seem like the most refreshing of breezes.

Luckily then, the day job of the Production Coordinator is to be everywhere at all times, or as close to it as humanly possible. One of the earliest things I learned is to remove the sound of Skype pings, my first few hours on staff was riddled with tiny chirps from a dozen conversations. You have an ear in every department during office hours, ready to rush in to solve any number of daily problems that can arise.

In between arranging and hosting all manners of department meetings and dailies (where everyone shows off their days work for their respective leads), you can be called upon to help get a recently approved prop into a character model’s hand or confirming a logic editor has the latest 3D layout of the scene he’s working on. It’s being on call on a phone line that’s always ringing. Given that we have departments in Italy and India, it also means daily midnight conferences on modeling procedures and approval processes.



Redmine: "From up here, you all look like little, compulsively organized ants."


Once (or if) you manage to quiet all immediate concerns for a moment, you shift from the microscopic back to the macroscopic. And at my position, that means going from firefighting to data entry. We at Phoenix Online use the SCRUM style of scheduling on a milestone delivery schedule – for at least one of our projects – all of which means a lot of organizing and updating spreadsheets and scheduling software documents. While each staff member sees their individual priorities in a shared “To Do List” Google doc, I primarily employ Hansoft for the grander plan. To my eyes, a game looks like a massive array of nodes and interconnected lines long before it takes manifests into something playable.

Once we establish a foundation of logic and everyone has a foothold in their department, minute bugs and polish assignments can be tracked using Redmine, a program which helps store and prioritize everything from a character with a spinning chest to a background that needs final shading. An average game project can run anywhere from 600 to a couple thousand of these little tasks, all of which come through your inbox at each stage of being fixed.

It’s certainly a mountainous amount of information to take in and process, be it day 1 or 1,000. But all Coordinators (or Associate Producers) learn fast on their feet, and I was impressed just how quickly I was employing a unique bag of tricks. Despite my intimidating introduction, my greatest asset is my team. If you have a wonderful assortment of people, your job becomes a whole lot smoother (if not less complex). The staff at Phoenix Online – my little schedule nodes – are a wonderful, truly dedicated bunch, with their own little brand of insanity that I’m proud to be contributing to.

Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online

(Also, everyone, remember to like our Facebook Page and check out our twitter :) )   read


12:23 PM on 04.11.2013

Developer Diary: Music to Our Ears

Last May, composer Austin Haynes wrote a guest blog about composing the music of Cognition–music that went on to win the Adventure Gamers’ Aggie Award for Best Music 2012, AND win the Reader’s Choice poll for the same category! So I think it’s safe to say the man knows his music. ;) Here’s what Austin has to say about composing for Cognition.



Hi, I am Austin Haynes, the lead composer for Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. I also did the music for The Silver Lining, which was a fan game based off of King’s Quest. When I got involved in Cognition, the first point to discuss was what kind of music would fit the game? I had seen the lovely artwork designs and after discussing with Cesar Bittar, the project director and CEO of Phoenix Online, we both came to the conclusion that electronic elements along with some acoustic instruments would be a good fit. In our discussion, I learned that the game had dark imagery so the textures of synthesizers and otherworldly sounds would fit nicely along with dynamic instruments such as piano and strings. It is dark, mysterious, but also personal and heartfelt too. The setting was clearly different in comparison to The Silver Lining. This would be our first commercial game but as with the rest of Phoenix Online, we welcomed the challenge.

Cognition (Main Theme)

When making the music for the trailer, the visuals were so rich and strong, that it was quite clear in what emotion was needed to capture the moment. It had to be creepy, scary, gritty, and compelling. I used drones and processed sounds to achieve this along with screams I recorded to emphasize the pain and fear these victims were experiencing from these killers surrounded by the city.

There are a few different ways music is used in Cognition. There are some themes used for main characters and also of places that the player may visit quite a bit to make it special and memorable – nothing like music to set the mood. There are cinematic scenes that have to have the music timed and locked in with the visuals. This is very much in the same way that music is scored to film. I like to watch the video and get the sense of timing to start the composing process. This helps me set the pace for the music. Because a lot of changes happen in these videos, the music needs to reflect that so it can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Another different use of music is during gameplay. How long will Erica be in certain areas? What is the mood we are looking for here? Because things can change while you are playing and as you progress, we have certain music layers that can come into the mix when needed, making it a very immersive experience. For example, I have some distortion running through large ensemble percussion that comes in as the tension increases during a moment in Episode 1. Being able to have these layers is possible do to the Unity Engine we are using. For intense scenes, distortion was a great way of getting that gritty sound which brought a whole other level of dimension musically to the experience. This is exciting and different from movies that are always locked and set with how everything will go.



There is also the question of implementation. Because a player can spend a long time in a certain area, how long should this music be? Should it be looped or come and go? When it comes to in-game music, I sometimes need to imagine what it is like during early development because the objects, animation, graphics are still being implemented. Most of the time artwork, music examples, or descriptions are provided which gives a good indication of what is needed.

Momma Rose (Rose’s Theme)

I hope fans of The Silver Lining will like our newest creation and enjoy the music I’ve created! I am excited for everyone to hear the soundtrack and play the game!


We hope you enjoyed this blog post and please, don't forget to vote for us on Steam Greenlight

Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online   read


1:10 PM on 04.03.2013

Developer Diary: It’s All Logical

From our very own Katie Hallahan:

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!

Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online   read


7:52 AM on 03.27.2013

Destructoid reviewed our game!...again



Because good things come in pairs, Destructoid has now reviewed Episode 2 of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, giving us the wonderful score of 7.5!

It's not often an indie studio is lucky enough to be noticed and reviewed by an outlet as famous and important as Destructoid, but somehow our game got through...TWICE!

Once again we'd like to thank Fraser Brown for the wonderful review and all our fans for the support. None of this would have been possible without you :)

Now we can only hope everyone will enjoy Episode 3 even more! (It's coming soon, we swear!)

Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online   read


10:25 AM on 03.25.2013

Developer Diary: Concept Art to Final Product

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!



Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios   read


9:52 AM on 03.18.2013

The art of loving what you do.

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.



-Say

(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.)

Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios   read


9:18 AM on 03.11.2013

Developer Diary: Teaming Up With Jane Jensen

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.

Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios   read


2:37 PM on 03.09.2013

Cognition comes in Bundles now!



Yes that's right, Cognition is being featured on the Indie Royale Bundle! If you've ever wanted to get Episode 1 for cheap than this would be the perfect opportunity and you'll even get a nice shiny Desura key to boot.

On a different subject matter, yes, I know that it's been a while since we've posted a Developer's Diary, but worry not, our next blog post will be just that! :)


Gonçalo Gonçalves
Social Media Intern, Phoenix Online Studios   read


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