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Twisted Jenius's blog

Reptile Zoo and Creating the Creature
12:14 PM on 06.04.2014
Reptile Zoo and Making the Hunter Hunt-
8:07 AM on 05.28.2014
New Game: Reptile Zoo
11:21 PM on 05.21.2014
Indie Game Magazine (IGM) charging developers to review their games?
5:01 PM on 11.25.2013
Enemy design part 2
3:11 AM on 04.15.2013
Enemy design part 1
7:35 AM on 03.22.2013





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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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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.








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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.







Twisted Jenius
11:21 PM on 05.21.2014



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.
RZconcept02
 
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").








Earlier this week I sent out a round of emails to various indie game sites about an update to my game (Twisty's Asylum Escapades).  One of the responses that I got was from indiegamemag.com. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by what the e-mail had to say.

It began by going out of its way to explain how "unbiased" IGM is, and explains that they "will never offer or accept payment or other forms of compensation for a favorable review".

Then the next paragraph went on to solicit money for their unbiased reviews. They explained that because they are independently owned and not funded by another company, they need support from their community (and evidently their ad revenue that they get from the site is not enough). As a result they are forced to ask for a "small review fee" from the developers.

"The $50.00 will purchase a completely unbiased, in-depth review of your game"

It's important to note that they did specify that the 50 bucks was for an in-depth review and that they would be willing to provide a briefer preview of the game for no charge.

So apparently, paying them will not get you a better review of your game, just a longer and more detailed one (they also mentioned that another $50 could buy a 15 minute YouTube video review/walkthrough of your game).

While they do seem committed to unbiased reviews, this business model still presents the problem of the quality of the actual games themselves that will be receiving these in-depth reviews and whether the right games will be given the kind of attention that they deserve.

Now I'm relatively new to indie game marketing, but something seemed a little off about this to me. This isn't a practice that I'm familiar with and, after doing some searching around the Internet, I can't seem to find anything about this going on as a regular thing (if this is something that happens often, or is a normal practice, feel free to correct me).

One other thing that I'd like to point out is that this e-mail was sent "On Behalf Of Chris Newton". According to this post (http://www.indiegamemag.com/under-new-management-sort-of/) dated November 1st, 2013 on IGM, Mr. Newton only recently gained ownership of the business. Perhaps this move towards paid reviews is part of his "re-focusing" efforts?

I can understand why something like this would raise some red flags for many gamers out there. Personally, as a developer and businessman myself, I can understand why IGM would want to monetize in this way. On the surface it seems like a good symbiotic relationship between this online magazine and game developers who want their games to be covered. The thing that I was a bit offended by is the "unbiased" element of this. This sort of bizarre compromise between minor corruption and journalistic integrity is a bit inefficient. It would be best just to go one way or the other.  If I'm going to pay money for a review of my game, I expect it to be horribly biased!







Twisted Jenius
3:11 AM on 04.15.2013

All of the human characters in the game are sort of exaggerated caricatures of real types of people and I thought about each character's individual body type when I was designing their attacks and how they would move. For instance, the large, almost gorilla-like Orderly isn't very quick and basically just lumbers down the halls and slams you with his oversized arms (he's also the only enemy the player can reasonably out run). Contrast this with the janitor who appears to be a lot more lean and agile and uses his broom as almost a sort of martial arts style staff weapon and is able to spin in the air. When plotting the janitor's movements, I actually held a broom myself and figured out exactly how I wanted him to move (though I wasn't actually able to pull off the midair spinning thing).

.

The enemy nurses, like the Orderlies, are very direct and not very graceful in their attacks. Because of the shape and size of the nurse's bodies, I figured that they wouldn't move around as much and would probably just have to use their arms in a limited way, in order to poke you with their giant syringe. I also took a lot of time figuring out the nurse's "run" animation and tried several different things with that. The Doctor's attacks are also very direct but he uses much wider sweeping motions that I felt were more inline with his tall lanky form. His attacks are designed to create a feeling of quick precision, which would seem to go well with a character in a white lab coat wielding a giant scalpel.

There were several other characters that we had originally planned to have in the game, but that we decide to scrap for various reasons. Among these was a security guard character that I decided was visually boring, and more importantly redundant, since we would already have both Orderlies and SWAT team in the game.

In addition to the human hospital staff, the asylum also has some enemy ghosts floating around certain sections of it. The original reason that I wanted to include ghost characters in the game is that I wanted something else strange in there other than Twisty himself. I wanted something to signify that to the asylum was actually haunted and that there was other weirdness going on there aside from the fierce floating brain.

The ghosts are the only enemies with a ranged attack that you encounter during the majority of the game, before the SWAT team enters the building. Their supernatural energy attacks gave us the opportunity to include more visual variety in the game, and depart from the standard melee weapons that the other enemies use.

The aggressive ghosts are not only the enemy of the player, but will also attack and do battle with any of the other human enemies that they encounter. Part of this design decision was based on the simple fact that it wouldn't make sense for them to get along with the "ordinary" human hospital staff, but it also serves as a cool gameplay feature that allows the player to pit different enemies against each other for their own strategic advantage.

When damaged, the ghosts leave a green ectoplasm like substance behind, as opposed to the red blood that is left by the more corporeal enemies. When designing the characters for the game, we felt it was important to give them each their own distinctive "personality". Not only does this include their individual appearances, but also the way that they move. If you look closely, even their individual movement patterns are unique and certain characters have a tendency to move forwards and backwards, strafe from side to side, or use a serpentine pattern during combat. They also have different patterns and intervals for their separate attacks during combat and leave different openings, providing "weaknesses" for the player to exploit.

All of these various factors and details add up to more interesting characters and richer gameplay.

If you would like to play the game discussed in this development blog, you can download it for free here.







Twisted Jenius
7:35 AM on 03.22.2013

Having asylum staff as the enemies seemed like an obvious choice since the game is about trying to escape an asylum. This basic decision was very intuitive, but a lot of thought went into the details of the enemies themselves.

Most of the enemies in the game are very distinctive in their appearance. They're all stylized to one extent or another. The most obvious reason for this is that I didn't want them to be boring to look at and that's the kind of style that I personally like. But there was also another, more technical reason for their somewhat cartoony appearance.

Due to the limitations of the technology that we were using and the fact that we wanted this game to be able to run on as many different types of hardware as we reasonably could, it was important that we kept the complexity of the 3D models to a certain minimum. Basically we couldn't make the characters too complex looking or it would slow down the game too much on too many people's machines. Keep in mind that we're a two man team and lacked many of the resources that an AAA title would have to go through and completely optimize their game.

In a situation like this, where you have a fairly low cap on the amount of geometry that you can include in a single character, it's best to go with a stylized look. Trying to go with something realistic would be folly under these circumstances since it couldn't really be achieved anyway and trying would just make the characters look even worse. Fortunately, the stylized look is what I wanted anyway and it works well with the other weirdness of the game.

I would say that the biggest single influence on the visual design of the enemies of the game is Gary Larson's The Far Side. This is probably most obvious with the enemy nurses, as she is very heavily based on the general look of Larson's women.



Of course one of the biggest influences on the style of the game's characters is just what I like and what comes naturally to me. Since I was responsible for creating the look of this entire world and was the sole artist on the project, I thought that the best way to make sure it was consistent was to just do what I intuitively felt would work best.

It was important that the characters work well with the world and share some of the same weird style as the environment and of course as the protagonist, Twisty. And since one of the other goals of this game is to promote the Twisted Jenius web site, I was also inclined to borrow certain ideas from that. In the case of designing the enemy characters, that usually meant taking some cues from my other somewhat cartoony work, my Villains & Heroes webcomic. If you look closely you'll notice that there is some minor overlap between certain features of the characters in the comic and in the game.

If you would like to play the game discussed in this development blog, you can download it for free here.