The game that we are in the process of developing, Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation, contains quite a few art assets. This is an entire environment that must be populated with scenery, terrains, objects, foliage, buildings and wildlife. To make a 3D game like this requires a whole succession of various props to occupy the space in this virtual world, and most of those objects are pretty mundane.
As the person who is responsible for all of the art in the game, it's my job to design and create everything that will go into it. However, as you can imagine most of it is not really worth showing off. If you really think about it, most of the props that go into populating a world like this are not going to be particularly interesting to look at on their own. This is one of the reasons why I don't often show off a lot of the work that I do in these blogs. Basically I don't want to bore you with the latest ground/dirt texture that I just made. And so you can assume that that is the kind of thing that I'm up to when I'm not showing off some cooler stuff.
However, I do find these kinds of details to be very important. As you can see from some of the concept art that I've posted in some of the previous blogs, there's a very distinctive "feel" and look that I want for the game, and as with any video game, it's only going to be as good as the sum of its parts. If I want to capture a specific kind of aesthetic, it's important that all of the individual elements work together and that is why I like to try and put special care into everything and make sure that it all works well together stylistically.
Fortunately, I do have a couple of slightly more interesting things that I've done that I can show off now. The first is a somewhat weathered looking wooden bridge that will appear in the game. It is still in its modeling program and still needs some details added to it before it is truly complete. The second image is of a stone wall with a rusted iron fence which has been set in the larger game environment. It also doesn't have its complete texture mapping yet, and is therefore still a work in progress, but it gives you an idea of what we're up to ( this blog is here to let you follow along with the game's development, after all).
Speaking of which, the second person working on the game, its programmer, has also been making some steady progress on his end. Lately he's been working on a system that will allow the plant life to move and react to the player (or the AI monster) whenever a bush or similar object is bumped into. Basically we want the plants in the game to "rustle" whenever something bumps into them or brushes by them, the way that they would in real life.
This is a bit more complicated than you might initially think. This system has to be programmed to factor in things like the speed and force of the collision with the plant, as well as the direction of the collision relative to the plant, and of course how the plant will "react" to those things. And the system has to work with all of the different types of plants in the game. Many different factors and testing have to be put into this system in order for it to function correctly and look right.
Of course we're not just doing this because it looks cool; there is also a more serious gameplay element to this. If you recall, Reptile Zoo has a lot of stealth gameplay. The player must try to avoid the predatory creature and survive this frightening experience. Much of the game is going to occur in a series of large outdoor exhibits filled with plant-life. The plants will serve as a "giveaway" for both the player and the hunter. One wrong move will alert the creature to where the player is, and in turn the player will have a better idea of where the monster is, by seeing and hearing its movement among the foliage.
The plants will be able to work as cover to hide behind, but if you run into them they will also make noise and move, thus potentially giving away your position. The physical movement of the plants will be linked to the sound effects system, and it will all have to work in unison to create a realistic effect of the plants reacting as you move through them. Combine this with the additional programming of the A. I. having to respond to this sound and movement in an intelligent and realistic way, that's also fair to the player, and you have a whole lot of fairly complex, custom game programming going on here. I'm really hoping that you guys will enjoy the results (or at least be terrified by them, in the good way!).
Our upcoming horror game Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation relies very heavily on its environment to provide the necessary creepy and disturbing feeling that we're going for. There are going to be a few distinctive "showpiece" areas within the game and these will feature some of the more prominent structures and props that you will find in this game world. These are what I've been working on recently.
With this post, I'm including a couple of work-in-progress shots of two of these kinds of structures. The first is the gazebo, which has been placed in the larger game environment. The second is the bridge, which is still in the modeling program. Neither of these objects have the correct lighting, and some of the details and texture mapping that you will see on them in the final game is missing. They still need a bit more work but I just wanted to share what I've done with them so far. For reference, I'm also including the piece of concept art that I did for the bridge area, to give you an idea of what it should look like in the final game.
You can see that both objects feature a certain kind of stone work texture, which is something that you will see frequently in the environment of Reptile Zoo. I will actually be using multiple different types of stone textures and patterns for different parts of the game, but hopefully this will create a feeling of realistic continuity among the different objects and structures, so that it is clear that this is all the same facility. The inspiration for some of this stonework came from real places, which I will address in another blog.
The goal of the basic look of the structures is to create a creepy and unsettling atmosphere for the player to move around in, while at the same time allowing it to resemble what could easily be a real place, with these types of real objects. We want the game to feel scary, but at the same time we want it to also resemble the grounds of a real aging zoological facility. Ideally, the environments should be frightening but also eerily familiar, like a slightly skewed version of a real zoo that you might see in a dream (or nightmare). Feel free to give me any feedback and let me know how you think I'm doing on this.
Lately we've been focusing a bit more on the environments of our upcoming game Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation. We've made a lot of progress in creating various textures for some of the environments, as well as doing a few preliminary mockups and tests for some of the areas that will be in the game.
Included in this post, we have some examples of this. Two of these images are from one of the outdoor paddock areas and one is from an indoor section of the main reptile house building.
None of these areas are complete yet and what we have so far is mainly for testing purposes. But they should give you some idea of the direction that we're going in and allow you to follow along and see how things progress and develop.
Work on our latest video game project, Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation, continues to move forward. This week we completed mapping out the details of our strategy for implementing the A.I. Planning it all out thoroughly is very important for this, as it will make programming it that much easier and hopefully most of the real work is already done. We also completed modeling and texturing the game's main creature (I still need to rig and animate it).
You might notice that we are putting a lot of work into the main monster of this game. This is because one of the primary goals of Reptile Zoo is to feature a really good quality monster. In fact, that idea was probably the initial catalyst for wanting to create this game. After seeing the antagonists in some other indie survival horror games, we began thinking that perhaps we could do it better. Part of creating this monster is giving it good A.I. (a topic that we covered in last week's blog), but there's also another part, the idea for the creature itself.
After deciding on the basic premise of a killer reptilian beast, I asked a friend and talented artist named Ari Bach to come up with a design for the animal. I approached him because he is very good at coming up with interesting creature designs and I wanted this to be something unique. I'm not going to be publicly showing off any of Ari's concept drawings or any pics of the final 3D model before the game comes out. However, I will include one of my own pieces of concept art in this post, which is based on Ari's design. It gives you a small taste of the creature, but without giving too much of it away.
Why a giant mutant reptile?
These days it seems like the horror game world is full of supernatural entities and walking corpses. Zombies and ghosts haunt our computer screens in the dark of night and have become the standard for games of this genre. But for this game I wanted to break from that. We want the player to feel like they are being hunted and for that I wanted something that was closer to a flesh and blood animal. This thing doesn't just vaguely "get you" when you look at it or it comes too close; this is a walking, breathing predator that wants to eat you! The idea here is to tap into the most basic and primal fear of being hunted that humans have evolved with, since before we were even humans.
The truth is that I love strange creatures and animal-monsters. I grew up on campy horror movies which are often collectively referred to as "Jaws rip-offs" from the 70s and 80s. These included such animal flicks as Alligator (1980), Piranha (1978), Barracuda (1978), Orca (1977), Grizzly (1976), Tentacles (1977) and Razorback (1984). Although they came a bit later, I think it'll also throw in Komodo (1999) and Anaconda (1997) as well, since I also enjoyed them and they're very relevant to the topic at hand. I think that we can safely say that these sorts of films definitely contribute to the game's "creature feature" sensibility. I should also mention that another influence is the fact that I used to work for a zoo and have personally kept many exotic reptiles myself. Those experiences are also definitely having some impact on the creation of this game (I will discuss this more in future blogs).
Killer animal movies are fairly common in Hollywood. Long before Jaws, Hitchcock was frightening people with The Birds (1963) and even before that there was a whole slew of giant radioactive creature and bug movies from the 1950s. But this type of monster seems to be surprisingly absent as any kind of main antagonist in horror games. In a world where most survival horror gaming seems to revolve around disfigured humans and demonic entities, I'm hoping that Reptile Zoo can help open the gates to a broader array of things that can scare us as we play.
Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation has continued to progress. This week we created some new marketing material, did some more work on the main creature model and came up with a more concise plan for how the video game's A.I. will be implemented.
A bit about the A.I.
A.I. will be a very important element in Reptile Zoo. This is one thing that will set it apart from many other examples of recent indie first-person survival horror video games (Slender: The Eight Pages probably being one of the most famous examples of these). In many of these types of games, the A.I. is very minimal or completely nonexistent. Often the monsters will either suddenly pop into the player's vicinity, and you'll be forced to run away from them or simply look away from them to avoid dying. In some of these games the enemy will actively chase you as well.
One thing that I would like to point out is that with many of these types of games, although they are clearly in the genre of survival horror, their basic gameplay style is very much like an adventure game; focusing on elements of exploration and simple item collecting, and with avoiding the monster as almost a secondary function of the main gameplay. Reptile Zoo is different in this way, as its main type of gameplay is stealth.
This is what makes the A.I. so important to the game. The creature has to be able to actively hunt you. But this also means that it can't just pop up and start instantly chasing you the way you might see the monster do in other horror titles. In order for it to be a stealth game, you have to be able to avoid it. You have to keep the monster from seeing you, rather than avoiding looking at him.
This means that the A.I. must be a bit more complex, so that it can actively stalk you while still giving you an opportunity to hide or otherwise evade it. To accomplish this, the A.I. has several elements that it uses to determine how the creature will act in any given situation. These include-
• Detection: The various methods that the creature will use to determine where the player is (sight, sound, and touch), or where it thinks the player is.
• Awareness: How alert or sensitive the creature is to the player's presence. The closer it gets to the player, the greater its Awareness level will be. This variable will change over the course of gameplay and will help to dictate the creature's behaviors (and of course the animations that correspond with those behaviors) which will allow it to simulate the actions of a predator in various stages of stalking its prey (including the final attack).
• Positioning: What the creature's pattern of movement will be as it is hunting around and stalking its victim; literally how it's moving around in the game. Part of this will be determined by what its Awareness level is.
There are several other major elements to the A.I. and numerous other details and factors that come into play in regards to implementing it.
Why stealth gameplay?
The reason that we chose stealth gameplay for Reptile Zoo is pretty simple. We wanted the gameplay to work very well with, and even enhance the emotional experience that we were going for. Of course this is a horror game, so that emotion is fear. In this way we hope that the gameplay helps to enhance the fear as opposed to distracting from it. It's designed to work with it.
By making you hide from the creature in order to survive, we hope to invoke the primal sensation of being hunted by a large predator. Often some of the most terrifying moments in horror movies are when the potential victim is hiding from the killer or monster, not sure whether they're about to be found or not. This is exactly the type of sensation that we want to tap into, but with an interactive experience. You don't hide inside anything in this game, only behind things, and therefore you're never truly safe. Even accidentally making a noise by rustling a branch or stepping on some loose gravel could give away your position and allow the creature to know where you are.
The A.I. is designed to allow the creature to slowly stalk you, like a shark circling its prey. You will know it's there, and you may catch glimpses of it through the trees or darkness or other obstacles as it begins zeroing in on you. By definition, survival horror games are designed to make the player feel vulnerable, in order to invoke fear. In this case all you will be able to do is either hide, or occasionally run. You will be helpless against the monster.
By having A.I. that simulates the actions of a real predator, balancing the combination of it hunting you, while still allowing for it to have blind spots that you might use to hide or escape, and in a more general sense designing the gameplay itself to enhance the kind of emotions that we're trying to invoke, this should be one of the scariest games that you have ever played.
Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation is the latest video game project that we have been working on here at Twisted Jenius. It's a 3D, first-person horror game that we are developing using the Unity 3D engine. The overall goal of the game is to create the most frightening experience that we can, to simulate the primal terror and feeling of being hunted by something big and scaly.
Gameplay and Story
The gameplay will mostly rely on stealth. You will have to make your way through the grounds of a creepy reptile park and avoid being devoured by a predatory beast which is on the loose. In order to do this, you will be able to use all of the various elements and objects within the environment to hide behind and sneak around.
A zoo keeper has called his coworker in the middle of the night because one of the creatures has escaped from the collection and is now running free in the park. Having arrived, and guided only by the notes he has left, you must now go and find that other keeper somewhere in the zoo. But you also must stay alive!
Although this game was inspired by the latest generation of indie survival horror games, it's our goal to see if we can do it better. To create an even more terrifying experience with an original environment and setting, interesting gameplay and a better monster.
We've already made a fair amount of progress on the game.
Here is what we have done so far-
• Wrote up the game's design document, detailing many things such as the game's mechanics, aesthetic/art focus, progression, elements (characters, buildings and other objects), AI overview, etc.
• Created 2D maps to plan out the level and did concept of art for the various environments, creatures and other elements in the game (some of which I'll be posting in this and future blogs, until I have some good screen shots to show off).
• Put together a prototype of the game level within the engine, using placeholder art and began testing some of the most basic aspects of game play.
• Added some rough versions of the basic game play systems that will be going into the game.
• Put some elements and art assets into the level that will be closer to what will be in the final game.
• Began creating the 3D model of the main enemy creature (still need to complete texturing it, as well as rigging and animating it).
• Started planning the specifics of the AI system and how it will behave in the game and in relation to the player.
We still have a lot of things to do on this before Reptile Zoo is completed, but we will keep you updated with this blog. And if you're inching to play something before then, be sure to check out our last game, Twisty's Asylum Escapades. It's completely free and insanely fun (with an emphasis on "insane").