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Developer of the indie video game "Twisty's Asylum Escapades" and currently working on the horror game "Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation".

Twisted Jenius: Entertainment with Brains, Brains with Bite!
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Twisted Jenius
10:58 PM on 10.16.2014

Here's a bit of semi-official back story or "lore" for the video game that we are currently developing, Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation. The text below should be read as sort of a parody of a brochure or website or other piece of promotional material for the fictional "Reptile Zoo" that is featured in the game. The game itself will be straight horror, but I decided to make this text somewhat darkly humorous as well as disturbing, because I enjoy that kind of writing and it's in keeping with Twisted Jenius's style to inject a bit of fun into these things. I'm also including a couple of new screen shots below, in order to keep you updated on our progress. Let us know what you think!

 Welcome to Reptile Zoo!

Come let your blood run cold at Reptile Zoo, recently voted Texas' 183rd must-see attraction by an unspecified Internet publication!

 Our history-

What would become Reptile Zoo originally began in 1933 when traveling showman W.C. "Bill" Bevan arrived in town and began displaying recently caught rattlesnakes to the general public, thrilling old and young alike with his family attraction of venomous serpents housed in a quickly constructed and ultimately unstable structure made of wood planks, barbed wire, and old sheet metal. Many children were killed.

Seeking to create a better established place of business, Bevan petitioned the city for financial help in creating his visionary idea for a permanent "Reptile Farm". The Reptile Farm proposal was quickly dismissed by city officials, but was later approved under the new name of "The Reptile Garden and Research Bureau". The city donated an abandoned rock quarry to the project, which had been permanently evacuated years earlier due to mass mercury contamination. The substance can still be found on the site to this day.

Prison labor was used to construct the stone structures and paddocks out of the natural building materials left behind from the quarry, and many of these original buildings and walls still grace the grounds of Reptile Zoo. Mayor Brackenridge hailed the Reptile Garden to be an astounding success. Cited as being the first such facility in the United States, within a week it had paid for itself in attendance revenue, having made back the $15 investment, along with the free convict labor and free materials that the city had put into it. The Garden single-handedly sustained the entire region through tourist dollars, until the end of the Depression.

In 1938, Joe "Butcher of Elmendorf" Ball was accused of killing over twenty people and feeding their remains to the alligators that he kept in a pit behind his saloon. When the sheriff's deputies came to his business to question him, he shot himself in the head and therefore was unavailable for comment. However, his man-eating alligators were eventually shipped off to the next county and lived out the rest of their lives as residents of the Reptile Zoo. The descendants of Ball's hungry pets can still be seen in our exhibits.

After the war, the zoo got an even greater influx of new animals including turtles and exotic lizards. Many were donated from various organizations and law enforcement agencies who didn't know what else to do with them. Among these were a group of rabid iguanas carrying a new strain of the Kothoga virus, which were confiscated after being illegally smuggled in a banana crate from South America.

In the early 1970s, newly formed DARPA was engaged in genetically modifying jungle vipers to sniff out and attack enemy guerrillas hiding in tropical environments. The snakes proved too unpredictable and too lethal to use in any sort of practical military situation and so the remaining batches of these deadly "ultra-snakes" were remanded to Reptile Zoo, where they became a permanent part of the collection. It was also around this time that the park officially changed its name to Reptile Zoo.

In 1981, then owner George Kimbrell retired and sold the facility to a shadowy investment firm who would prefer to remain anonymous. It was four years later, in 1985, that the latest renovations to some of the buildings in the park were completed.

Today-

We are proud to say that Reptile Zoo currently houses one of the most unique collections of creatures in the world, thanks in no small part to various genetic experiments, generations of inbreeding and dubious levels of mercury in the water. Not only do our animals defy the laws of god and nature, but also several state and federal ones as well.

We continue to confidently move forward, always working to uphold our animal collection's founding motto- "if it dies, just buy a new one", as we precariously straddle the line between reputable zoological organization and roadside carnival freak show. And while much of the facility may have fallen into disrepair during the last several decades, we are still "technically" open for business and our small, underpaid but committed staff of "professionals" work diligently to ensure the public's safety by keeping all of the various monstrosities from leaving the grounds and running amok on an unsuspecting world. But they could sure use your help. So why not reward their efforts by stopping by and perhaps even donating a little bit or buying a souvenir t-shirt; thus keeping the doors open and the lights on for another day.

It's educational fun for the whole family and we're conveniently located on an undisclosed back road of the Lone Star State. So come on down to Reptile Zoo and see what all the screamin's about!









It has been over a year since Gabe Newell, the founder of Valve, first began expressing his desire to phase out the Steam Greenlight system, and now it might be happening.

At the time of this writing, the latest batch of games to be Greenlit was on August 1; 53 days ago, and only consisted of a total of 50 games. This is in contrast to several consecutive batches of 75 games which had been being Greenlit, a few times a month.

At least 100 games where Greenlit during each month, from December 2013 to June 2014. And yet since July 12, only those 50 games have been allowed through Greenlight. This sharp decline in games being allowed through that system could imply that the Greenlight method of allowing games onto the Steam distribution service, may finally be over.

This seems to be even more likely as today Steam launched its Discovery Update, providing new features for the service that would seem to be designed to help users to better navigate its large numbers of game titles. The reason that this would seem to indicate the death of the Greenlight system, is that the replacement for Greenlight (which essentially lets users vote on which games they would like to see on the Steam platform) might very well be no significant barriers to entry to Steam at all.

Based on things that Newell and others have said previously, it would seem that Valve has been leaning increasingly towards opening up access to Steam to as many games as possible. But with such an influx of new games and no real "gatekeeper", there will predictably be a massive sea of inferior products flooding Steam. And so we can surmise that many of the changes introduced in this latest Discovery Update are being implemented in order to help the cream rise to the surface, and to assist users in finding the types of games that they want.

Without such measures, users of the Steam service would be completely overwhelmed by the massive influx of games of all varying types of quality that would inevitably end up on the site. But the question is will these measures actually work and will these changes be sufficient enough to allow users to effectively navigate the massive swell of new games on the platform? Steam users already complained earlier this year about the increased number of games being Greenlit, and so it will be interesting to see what happens if Valve completely opens the floodgates to any and all games that might want to be on the platform.

While these recent events, and their possible outcomes should be of definite concern to Steam users, as an indie developer, I have some concerns of my own. Steam is by far the largest distribution platform for PC games and that's much of its value. But what happens to the value of getting on Steam if it becomes completely saturated with so many different titles that users cannot properly navigate it to find the quality games that they're looking for? The more games that get on the platform, the more difficult it is to be successful on it and at a certain point of mass saturation, the platform itself becomes increasingly worthless to an indie dev. As it is, Steam has become much more competitive than it once was and it is more difficult to make money on there than it was a year ago.

But more problematic is the fact that there is no real alternative. Although just getting on Steam is no guarantee of success, being on Steam is still almost necessary for any type of success; there really is no substitute for it. And if the value of being on that platform decreases, there really isn't another good alternative. As someone who is planning on releasing their next game within the next year (that would be Reptile Zoo: The Sinister Mutation), this is something that I'm personally concerned about.

Of course despite the fact that nothing has been Greenlit in over a month, Greenlight has not been officially discontinued yet and therefore much of this is just speculation. Both users and developers will still have to wait and see what Valve has planned, exactly. But it is apparent that something is in the works.

With the new "Curators" feature included with this latest update, it is hard to predict exactly what will happen. It will be interesting to see how this will affect things and which collections will gain popularity. I suspect that the Curators feature may even give rise to some new stars in this sphere of gaming popularity. Whether that and other features which were introduced in this new Discovery Update will sufficiently help users to filter through the platform's extensive list of games, has yet to be seen. Much of this would seem to be somewhat experimental.

All I can say is that both from a user and developer standpoint, I sincerely hope that Valve knows what they're doing.











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). 
 




Interactive Foliage
 
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.